Report from Louisiana: The Social Dilemma

By:  Pat Austin   

SHREVEPORT – Most of the time I feel like we are living in a dystopian universe.  If you watch The Social Dilemma on Netflix you might agree.  Absolutely terrifying.

Come sit in a high school classroom for any length of time and you’ll see the problem that is social media. In my school, the English teachers got together and decided to all take up phones before class each day. You put your phone in in the box before you enter class and they are returned at the end of class. Otherwise, I promise you, kids are staring at their phones and not doing their classwork. There are varying degrees of this truth depending on what school and how motivated the student population is in general.

The Social Dilemma docudrama makes the point that we have an entire generation of kids more anxious, more depressed than ever before due to social media. They are so bound up in that instant gratification from “Likes” and “Shares” that for so many their entire self-worth is connected to this. I see this daily.

This is a subject that has interested me for a long time; when Matt Richtel’s book, A Deadly Wandering, came out in 2014, I eagerly developed lessons around it, shared it with my students, and tried to reinforce its thesis, to no avail. Students thought it was crazy. It’s the “they aren’t taking to ME” syndrome: “I don’t have this problem.”

Social media is so insidious, so pervasive, so much a part of our lives, and we all know it. But we don’t stop. We are so absolutely dependent on it. It controls us.

Nearly everyone has had this experience, or something similar: you are driving by a store…say, Lowe’s, or Home Depot. You say out loud, “Oh, I need to go one day and get a new ladder!” What kind of ads show up on your social media feed next time you go online?

True story: I was outside one day with three friends. One person had a device around her neck with little fans at each end that blew air toward her face and she used this while gardening in our southern heat and humidity. Friend number two said something like, “Oh, that’s cool! Does it work well?” Friend no 1 assured her it worked great. End of conversation. I never uttered a word. What kind of ads were on my social media when I opened Facebook later that afternoon?  Why, ads for little fans you wear around your neck, of course.

Paranoid? Nope. This happens all the time.

Last week I saw one of those ads on Facebook for some shirt with a dragonfly design. I did not click on it. I did linger for a moment, looking at the photo. Now, dragonfly shirts are all over my feed.

This sort of thing is a tiny example of how social media controls and influences us. It is enough for me to want to pull a Travis McGee, unplug from everything, and go off the grid.

Now watch, Travis McGee books will be all over my feed.

Watch The Social Dilemma. It’s an eye opener.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Governor Wins another Challenge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As Covid cases across the nation soar, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards is batting a perfect score so far on legal challenges to his statewide restrictions such as the mask mandate and tough limits on bars and restaurants.

Last week, a Baton Rouge judge sided with the governor in a challenge by House Republicans; Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry filed the petition by 65 of the 68 House Republicans which demanded the restrictions imposed by the governor be lifted:

Sixty-five of 68 House Republicans last month used an obscure 2003 law passed during the SARS pandemic to send a petition to Gov. John Bel Edwards directing him to cancel his virus restrictions. Morvant ruled the law in question violates the state Constitution because it doesn’t involve both chambers of the Legislature, instead allowing the House or Senate to act on their own.…Morvant said the governor’s emergency powers, granted to him by the Legislature, allow him to make decisions that have the force of law. To repeal, enact, or alter a state law, the entire Legislature — including the House and the Senate — must agree.

And so, we remain masked. That being said, Louisiana is not spiking in Covid numbers at the moment as quickly as the rest of the nation, although many feel that is coming. Numbers are rising; both case numbers and hospitalizations.

In a sign of the times, the hearing was held via Zoom; Republican lawmakers had been sharing the Zoom link on social media for days. Apparently the entire state was in the meeting and a couple of people managed to slip through the mute button and join in. The result was hysterical:

Such are the frustrations of high-stakes court hearings set in the year 2020. Morvant and the cadre of attorneys were arguing via the videoconferencing software Zoom, and only lawyers were supposed to have the ability to speak. Apparently, a member of the public had slipped through the cracks and unmuted himself. “Snide comments coming from the peanut gallery,” Morvant clarified, “are not going to be appreciated by this court.”

“Our state needs to be open,” the unidentified man said.

“If we were in open court, I would hold you in contempt and have you removed,” Morvant said, becoming agitated. “If you say anything else in this Zoom hearing, I will have you removed.”

The man kept speaking. Morvant made good on his promise. “Have that person removed,” he said. A staffer obliged.

As Morvant was taking up a series of procedural moves in the middle of the hearing, a strange noise emanated from the Zoom meeting, stopping everyone in their tracks.

“I don’t know what that was,” said Liz Murrill, Landry’s top deputy.

“I don’t either,” Morvant replied. “I wasn’t the one that invited the entire state to participate.”

Sign of the times.

As the holidays approach and numbers continue to climb, we are expecting more restrictions from our esteemed Governor and rumors about school closings are epic. I don’t want to speculate on that right now…I’ll wait and see. I feel like that’ll be coming down soon enough.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: #AmReading

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Sick of politics?  Tired of reading about the coronavirus?  There are some great new book releases coming out this month that you should check out. One’s a mystery, one is chick-lit, and one is a classic collection of essays: something for everyone!

First, Michael Connelly is back with his Lincoln Lawyer, Mickey Haller. The Law of Innocence is Haller at his best as he is apparently framed for a murder and then must defend himself in court….from jail. We have all the familiar characters that we’ve come to know and love in a Haller story: Lorna, Cisco, and even Harry Bosch lends a hand. The frame against Haller looks pretty airtight and Connelly keeps you guessing all the way to the end.

I love Michael Connelly because as prolific as he is, his stories never get stale or predictable. The Law of Innocence comes out November 10.

Also coming out on the tenth is a chick-lit romp in The First Time We Met by Jo Lovett. Sometimes you just need something light and meaningless and while I don’t read a lot of chick-lit, I did review this one for NetGalley and enjoyed it. Izzy is our protagonist; she meets Sam on his wedding day and of course he is the one and only for her. The novel covers decades and is set on two continents, but Izzy and Sam remain linked. There are the obligatory best-friend characters that add to the mix. Predictable? Sometimes. Fun? Yep.  If chick-lit is your thing, check this one out.

On a more serious note, The Glorious American Essay comes out November 17, and is edited by Phillip Lopate. This is truly one I have got to have on my shelves in my personal collection. It includes essays from Colonial times to the present. Here you can find essays from the Founding Fathers, Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Annie Dillard, to name a few. It’s a beautiful collection and is perhaps the definitive collection of the American essay. I absolutely loved this one and will probably give it for Christmas to several people on my list.

I recently finished reading Kerri Arsenault’s Mill Town and I highly recommend it as well. It is part memoir and part investigation into what is causing high cancer rates in her Maine hometown. The obvious culprit is the paper mill and the dioxin it produces. Arsenault has a quiet, gentle “voice” and her diligent, prodding investigation runs from local interviews with townsfolk to the DEQ basement archives. I was engrossed in this one from beginning to end.

What are you reading? I need recommendations! Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Sticking our heads in the sand

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Louisiana is a land of many quirky laws, and leave it to our state legislators to pull out one of those to force an end to Governor John Bel Edwards public health emergency executive orders.

House Republicans have been chafing over the mask mandate for months, along with many of the other restrictions put in place by Governor Edwards on crowd sizes and which businesses can open and under what capacity.

At the end of the special legislative session last week, House GOP lawmakers used a petition against these orders to have them nullified.

From KATC news:

A statement from the house reads, “At no time since the start of the pandemic has the governor taken meaningful steps to address legislative concerns in any substantive way,” the release states. “The Legislature will make no apologies for simply standing up for the people we collectively represent. The House has exhausted every available legislative remedy and has been left with no other option but to exercise its legislative right to terminate the Governor’s emergency order.”

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landy issued the following statement:

“The emergency powers act and the emergency health powers act are written to outline what extraordinary powers are granted to the Governor during a declared emergency. A termination clause is included outlining a simple process for pressing the stop button. Immediately upon termination, the emergency powers cease and the Governor’s powers revert to the ordinary powers afforded the Governor as outlined by our Constitution and laws. The termination process is effective immediately, unless provided otherwise in the petition, when a petition is signed by a majority of the surviving members within either body of the Legislature, the Senate or the House. The termination of emergency powers does not require any additional action other than the signed petition. Upon completion of the signed petition, the Governor is directed to issue a proclamation informing the public of the termination.”

And so, controversy continues.

State Representative Alan Seabaugh spoke with KEEL Radio News, saying:

“A petition signed by a majority of members can end the public health emergency at any time,” Seabaugh says, referring to the process invoked, “Essentially, we’ve ended the public health emergency. John Bel (Edwards) doesn’t want to acknowledge that we have that power. He said at his news conference Friday, ‘I’m not going to give up my power.’ Well, it’s not his power, it’s our power (and) we gave it to him and we took it back.”

Governor Edwards calls the petition and lifting of restrictions reckless, and said “You know burying heads in the sand and just pretending that COVID isn’t a problem, isn’t going to help.”

With cases expected to rise in the coming cooler months, many are worried about the lifting of restrictions, but at the same time, people are weary of the mask mandate, the limited access to businesses, and business owners themselves are paying the price with decreased revenue. Many have had to shut down.

Governor Edwards is not expected to sign an acknowledgment of this petition and so the restrictions are still actually in place until he does, but it’s clear that we are now in some murky, gray legal area. If you are a bar owner, and you stay open after 11:00 p.m. and operate at full capacity, will you be shut down or not?  Stay tuned.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Senate 2020

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Early voting is underway in Louisiana and in Shreveport the lines are blocks long waiting to get in. As large a city as Shreveport is, there is only one place to early vote.  What these long lines mean is anyone’s guess.

Last month I wrote in this space about the senatorial race in Louisiana between incumbent Bill Cassidy and newcomer Adrian Perkins; Perkins is currently the mayor of Shreveport, elected in 2018.

Word on the street, and in the polls, is that Perkins doesn’t stand a chance in this election, but what is clear is that his eye is on a bigger prize and Shreveport was never anything but a stepping stone to the next rung on the political ladder.

In my post last month, I outline some of the missteps by Adrian Perkins as mayor of Shreveport; this weekend, Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Tyler Bridges covers much the same ground, outlining his background and political rise. Bridges compares Perkins quick rise to that of former Governor Bobby Jindal. This is not necessarily a good thing. Once full of great promise, Jindal left Louisiana in a fiscal mess.

The Advocate article is interesting to me in who it cites as advocates for Perkins; Mary Landrieu, for one. That’s enough to shut me down right there. His personal narrative is compelling:

As a boy, Perkins said, his mother often worked three jobs to put food on the table for her three sons. Perkins’ father left when he was three but returned when his son was in high school. Perkins said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks inspired him to join the military. West Point recruited him, Perkins said, because he had top grades, had served as class president every year and was an all-state athlete in the 800 meters. At the military academy, Perkins said he was president of his class all four years, was a conference champion 10 times in track and field races and majored in economics. About 18 months after graduation, he was deployed to Iraq, where he was a platoon leader. During two tours of Afghanistan, he was a company commander with over 200 soldiers. After seven years in the military, Perkins, a captain, left at 28 to enter Harvard Law School. “I had already jumped out of planes and rappelled out of helicopters,” he said. “I wanted to do something intellectually stimulating.”

All well and good but his success in Shreveport during his brief tenure as mayor has been nonexistent. Bridges touches on some of the same scandals I mentioned last month but also points out that Perkins has lost a lot of support. Republican leaders who were willing to work with him have turned their backs on him:

A group of Republican businessmen who helped elect him in 2018 turned against Perkins after he awarded an insurance contract to the first cousin of his campaign manager. The man had no experience in that area of insurance. The businessmen said Perkins had broken his promise not to engage in politics as usual. A city internal audit said the new contract appeared to provide less coverage for more money. Perkins said it was a good deal for the city and added, “We introduced minorities into insurance coverage for the first time in the city’s history. Minorities should have an opportunity, outside of the well connected class.”

From my personal perspective, as a resident of Shreveport, I could in no way support Perkins for any higher office because I don’t believe he has fulfilled his promise for this office. He ran for mayor as someone who wanted to do new, fresh things to better this city, and he has failed miserably. Shreveport is not a large city by many standards – in 2018 we had a population of about 188,000. We are demographically 57% black, 38% white. We have shootings every single day and our murder rate is way up. There is no manufacturing in Shreveport and jobs are primarily service industry jobs. The largest employer in Shreveport is the school system, followed by Willis Knighten hospital system. There is little for families to do here unless you like going to casinos or bars.

All that negativity to say that Perkins has a lot of room in which to improve this city, but has not done so. Given that, I don’t think he will do much better for the state, should he somehow be elected senator. I truly believe this is only an exercise in building name recognition and that Perkins wants to take that same meteoric rise as Barack Obama. Presidential aspirations? Maybe. Higher office than mayor of a dying city? Certainly.

Even after Perkins loses this election, it won’t be the last you hear of him.

Mark my words.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Hodgepodge

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Some loose thoughts from Louisiana this morning.

STORMS: Hurricane Delta blew through Acadiana last week, making landfall in the community of Creole, Louisiana in Cameron Parish, less than twenty miles from where Hurricane Laura hit six weeks ago.

When I tell you that people in that part of the state are weary of storms, well, that barely touches how weary they are.

Across Acadiana right now, there are of course trees down all over the place, families are displaced, power is being restored, and linemen are working long, long hours. Overhead video from Lake Charles before Hurricane Delta hit showed a huge percentage of the homes there covered in blue tarps. After Delta, tarps have been blown all over the place, debris piles blown all over the place, and power is out once again across the city. It’s just bedlam.

That being said, communities are pulling together; this is not their first rodeo and they will all rebuild and survive. But please, no more storms for a while.

COVID: Covid is not done with Louisiana. Our hospitalization numbers are rising again, but are still nowhere near where they were over the summer. Little outbreaks are popping up in schools – go figure. At the high school where I teach, the entire football team is in quarantine along with five coaches. But, who didn’t see that coming, right?

Experts expect numbers to climb again as cooler weather moves in, and some believe all of this hurricane displacement and movement has contributed to rising numbers. People in shelters and whatnot.

Around town, here in Shreveport, we are still under Governor Edwards mask mandate, but I’m seeing a lot of mask-fatigue. One popular diner in town is simply not using masks. None of the employees are wearing them. Ever. Yet people keep eating there, so they are apparently not concerned about it.

Last week, Governor Edwards extended Phase 3 until November 6. Some are calling it Phase 2.5 because it is still pretty strict.

BOOKS: I’ve been reading like a madwoman, and my taste in books is all over the place. I’m one of those people that will read several books at once. I read on NetGalley a lot, and write reviews for publishers for books that are not yet released.

Currently, I’m reading Michael Connelly’s The Law of Innocence (November 20, 2020) and it’s really good; typical Connelly, very tight, very suspenseful. It’s one of the Haller mysteries. It’s everything you want in a Connelly book.

I just finished Margreet’s Harbor by Eleanor Morse (April, 2021). This is a beautifully written, evocative novel that will make you wish you could call your mother one more time.

When Margreete sets her kitchen on fire, Liddie realizes her mother can no longer live alone. Liddie uproots her family and they all move in with Margreete in her coastal Maine home. The novel covers nearly two decades; we watch Liddie’s children grow up, we track the ups and downs of Liddie’s career and marriage, and we fall in love with Margreete.

Eleanor Morse is adept in writing from the perspective of a frustrated husband, a thirteen-year old boy, and a dementia addled woman. All are equally engaging and convincing. We are drawn into the family dramas and are touched by the sweet moments such as when daughter Gretchen can’t bear to hear the neighbor’s mother cow lowing mournfully for her separated calf.  Morse’s writing is never heavy-handed, always on point, and lovely in its simplicity. I really enjoyed this one.

I also read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams (April 2021). It is historical fiction set in Oxford and follows Esme who we meet under the sorting table at the Scriptorium where her father works as part of the team compiling the Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s mother is dead, and she and her father have a loving, nurturing relationship. The Scriptorium is a shed of corrugated iron in the garden of the home of Sir James Murray, team leader. Esme is fascinated with words and as one word, bondmaid, flutters to the ground, Esme scoops it into her pocket and a lifetime of collecting lost words begins.

The novel is populated with rich, well developed characters. I loved Lizzie, a “bondmaid” in the Murray home, and Mabel, from the market. Tilda and her brother Bill, both irascible, are intriguing characters; Tilda becomes deeply involved in the women’s suffrage movement and Esme flutters around the edges, resisting Tilda’s attempts to become more radical.

We follow Esme from childhood to womanhood and the Dictionary follows pace. Esme remains fascinated with words and collects “lost words” that never make it into the dictionary. We experience her joys and her heartbreaks and more than once I found myself crying with Esme and celebrating her joys. This is a book to be savored.

Not to leave out nonfiction, I’m reading a 2009 book, Last Days of Last Island by Bill Dixon which tells the story of the monster 1856 hurricane that obliterated a popular barrier island on the Louisiana Gulf Coast which was the summer playground for sugar planters, important politicians and businessmen. It’s well researched and the narrative structure reads much like a David McCullough book. 

Me and my stack of books are packing up tomorrow and heading to Acadiana to sit on the bayou for a week and recharge. I won’t be paying attention to any confirmation hearings, presidential races, or anything at all for five days. Glorious!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Rescuing a Shrine

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – We are now in the Greek alphabet for naming hurricanes, with Beta headed toward the Louisiana/Texas Gulf coast this evening. This is only the second time we have gone to the Greek alphabet for this, the last time in 2005.

Beta will be primarily a rainmaker for us, which isn’t so bad, except the Lake Charles area really doesn’t need any more rain.

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy worries that the nation has forgotten about Hurricane Laura and that relief efforts have stalled:

“The sentiment by many at home is that the nation has already forgotten about Hurricane Laura,” said Cassidy. “The fear is that the recovery efforts will be stall and we’ll be ignored while other news…takes over. I’m here to be the voice for the people of Louisiana and share our story with you so that you may know what we are facing.”

Many feel that if not for the Cajun Navy, progress in this area would be nowhere near where it is now. The Cajun Navy has been providing and organizing meals, relief drives, rescues, distributing water, among other things.

The Cajun Navy is not the only group providing relief and volunteering time, however.  In an uplifting story in The Advocate, we learn that a group of volunteers from Lafayette, primarily high school boys from St. Thomas More High School and their fathers, traveled to Cameron Parish “to work in eastern Cameron Parish, mostly at Catholic churches badly damaged by the Category 4 storm but also at private homes.”

While there, they rescued a treasured crucifix from Our Lady of the Star in Cameron, Louisiana. The crucifix reportedly weighs between 300 and 400 pounds and was made in Italy. The video of the rescue has gone viral around social media sites. They took the crucifix back to St. Thomas More for safekeeping.

The church also holds a seven-foot marble statue of Mary and child which was commissioned and made in Italy and dedicated in 1963.  Every year a mass is said at the shrine on June 1: The Mass to Avert Storms.

The boys from Lafayette were able to see this shrine which is still standing, when they rescued the cross.

It’s a nice reminder that as many feel forgotten in the wake of Hurricane Sally and now Beta, there are still people working to rebuild and restore the Cameron and Caldwell parish areas.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Phase 3

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Governor John Bel Edwards moved Louisiana into Phase 3 last week, but not everyone is happy about that, and with good reason.

In some ways, Phase 3 is stricter than Phase 2. For example, in Phase 2, bars are closed to on-site consumption, unless they are also serving food.  Restaurants were able to open and serve alcohol at 50% capacity.

Under Phase 3, the capacity for restaurants moves up to 75%, however now all alcohol must be served only at tables; so, if you’re a restaurant with a bar area where people eat at the bar, nope. You have to sit at a table.

And under Phase 3, bars can now open to 25% capacity or 50 people, whichever is smaller, but no alcohol can be sold in either bars or restaurants after 10 p.m., and all establishments must be clear of patrons by 11 p.m.

Live music and dancing are forbidden.

Now, local mayors can go back to a previous phase if it is stricter than the one currently in place, so perhaps local mayors should consider going back to Phase 2 where bars and restaurants could serve alcohol after ten.

High Schools are going ahead with football games beginning in a couple of weeks with “social distancing encouraged” in the stands. In New Orleans, Mayor LaToya Cantrell is keeping her city in Phase 2, and has disallowed all alcohol consumption in bars. There will also be no prep football in New Orleans in Phase 2.

New Orleans is keeping the status quo of Phase 2 which means “bars will continue to be shuttered throughout the city and that restaurants, stores, gyms and other businesses are limited to 50% of their pre-coronavirus capacity.”

The rules in NOLA have been tougher than the rest of the state because their numbers were so high compared to other places.

At any rate, here in Shreveport anyway, bar owners are frustrated by the continued restraints on their business, and now those seem even tougher.

In Bossier Parish, where I teach, we are going back to 100% face to face instruction next week. No more A/B hybrid days. This has me concerned because this means my small classroom will again be filled to capacity with students. There are pros and cons to this: from an educational standpoint, of course it’s better because face it, the virtual model is not working well for many kids. But from a health standpoint, I’m nervous again.

There will be literally nothing I can do in my classroom as far as social distancing goes. We won’t be able to spread even three feet apart.

I don’t have the answers, but I don’t think anyone does. It’s like at this point, with restrictions easing on one end and tightening up on another, we are nowhere close to being on the same page with this virus. All I can do will be the best I can, and try to protect myself.

Life has never felt more dystopian.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: a Book Review

By: Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT — I’ve just finished reading a beautiful novel that I want to share with you. As like probably many of you, I’m an avid reader with a pretty diverse interest range. I read a lot of nonfiction, literary fiction, women’s fiction, historical fiction…pretty much anything. Not a big fan of romance, but I do like a good mystery.

The End of the Day by Bill Clegg is a stunning new novel coming out September 29 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. The story takes a while to unfold — don’t get impatient. It’s worth the journey. Told from the POV of various characters, we are slowly pulled in, woven in, to this complex plot line of intersecting lives. Just how they intersect is not immediately clear.

The main characters are Jackie, Dana, and Lupita. Three women of different social class: Dana is wealthy and privileged, Jackie is middle-class, and Lupita working class. Lupita’s family works for Dana’s family who is sponsoring them for a green card; Jackie and Dana are childhood friends. The story is set in the framework of a single day yet covers sixty years and Clegg weaves this intricate plot one thread at a time.

The prose is lyrical and more than once I found myself reaching for a notebook to write down a line simply because it was so evocative and beautiful. Symbolic elements abound without being overpowering. This is the kind of novel you read slowly in order to absorb every detail and I was sorry when it ended.

This is the first Bill Blegg novel for me but now I’m going to go back and read his other work, both fiction and nonfiction: Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, and Did you Ever Have a Family, among others.

Add this book to your reading list; if you like solid, beautiful literary fiction, this is a good one.

Report from Louisiana: Week One – Done

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Schools across the country are opening up, some all virtual, some all in-person, and some a hybrid mix A/B schedule. School districts are making decisions about transparency and how much information to share with the public with regard to Covid exposures and outbreaks. These policies differ from district to district.

When making decisions about exposure transparency several factors seem to be at play. First to consider is patient privacy, of course. Some districts are interested in image and in containing community panic. Others are wide open and are making weekly disclosure announcements.

In exploring this same topic last week, The New York Times spoke with Dr. Ashish Jha, of the Harvard Global Health Institute, who said “If schools don’t notify, it actually can make disease control more difficult. And it’s not like no one will know. Word will get out through a rumor mill. You don’t scare people by telling them what’s going on. You scare them by hiding information.”

Personally, I think communities should be informed, but I do see the problem if it is a very small community where patient identity would be obvious.

Most districts are choosing to notify only close contacts who might need to quarantine, and the rumor mill is taking care of the rest. This is a poor system.

I teach high school, and we had four days of inservice and training of the new programs that will support virtual learning, and then we had students for two days so far on an A/B hybrid schedule. We get half of our students on an A day and the other half on the B day, then they alternate Fridays.  This is my twenty-fifth year to teach high school, and it was the first year that I felt sad at the end of the day. There were no hugs, no high-fives, and no smiles that I could see because everyone was wearing a mask.

Many people were so anxious for schools to open so we could “get back to normal,” but let me tell you, this is in no way normal. When the bus drops kids off they go straight to a homeroom, or to the cafeteria to pick up a grab and go breakfast in a big Ziploc bag, then they go to homeroom. Everyone sits in homeroom until the first bell at 7:25. We are six feet apart, and there are no more than ten kids in any classroom at one time.

Same procedure for lunch.  The kids never go outside, and can’t let loose and relax much at lunch, because they are sitting six feet apart in a desk.

This is not normal.

Classes aren’t even normal. There are no group projects – we have to sit in straight rows all facing the front. Some elementary teachers have spent their own money to build plexiglass partitions and cubicles for students to avoid the rows.

The halls are quiet because you can’t stop and socialize – six feet apart.

It’s just very surreal and dystopian and it made me sad.

My colleagues and I are trying as hard as we can to find solutions, to break the monotony, to be engaging. To make them laugh, to feel safe, to feel welcome.

But this is not normal school. It still is better than 100% virtual for some students, that is certain. There is still bound to be a little bit of social stimulation here.

But outbreaks and exposures are already happening. I personally know of several in quarantine after only two days. I take precautions – I’ve bought a HEPA air purifier for my classroom (out of my own pocket.) We wipe down Chromebooks between each student, and desks, all day long. At the end of the day the custodians come in with foggers to kill any lingering virus. We have to exit our classrooms right after the students leave, so no more long afternoons at my desk catching up on grading. When I come home, I leave my shoes outside, change and shower immediately. The clothes go straight into the washer.

Meanwhile, a large part of the general public tells us teachers to quit whining, that grocery clerks, medical personnel, and other frontline workers have been working since March. Suck it up. I’m in my classroom from 9:05 – 2:15 with kids, with no personal break. None. I’m eating breakfast and lunch with them. (First block is my planning block, so after breakfast in have 90 minutes to take care of things prepping for the day). Cleaning. Sanitizing. Worrying – did I miss something?

I’m already exhausted, and I can’t imagine how my kids feel.

And if that’s not enough on anyone’s plate, here in Louisiana we have two hurricanes rolling in this week. TWO. IN THE SAME WEEK.

 I mean, really. Stop, already.

I’m not having a pity party, I promise. I love my job, and I love my school and my students, but I worry – this is not normal school. And if parents thought that’s what they were getting, it’s just not. Basically, they are getting virtual school, in person.  And they may or may not be notified if there is an exposure in their child’s school.

Even with all that, the kids really do seem happy to be back! And I’ll do everything in my power to keep it that way.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.