It’s time to stop titling posts LFH and go back to writing Weeknotes. Living from home is what I’ll be doing for the foreseeable future, so I may as well accept it. Parts of my state, including neighboring counties, are opening up this week. This does not make me happy but at least as of now STL city and county are continuing their stay-at-home orders until mid-May.
Last week was reading period and the beginning of finals week, or what used to be finals week. I gave both classes until this week to turn in all their post-spring-break writing assignments, so I’m watching them trickle in as the deadline approaches. I have some work to do but it’s not too bad, thanks to my teaching assistants. Which is good, because the undergrad admin stuff has ramped up again. We are doing a virtual commencement ceremony for our majors, which requires coordination and coming up with something Zoom-focused. Nothing is going to replace the usual ceremonies, and students have said as much. But not doing anything is worse than doing something that we all agree isn’t what we wanted. I’m emailing with my counterparts in other departments to try and figure out what will work and what makes sense. I’ll keep you posted.
I have three pieces out for review. Who knows when they will come back from the editors. But we’ve done our part. On to the next paper on the list.
It was such a pleasure to write a blog post on reading, because it signified that I’d done enough to warrant a post! TheH and I had a chat about Angela Thirkell over dinner. It occurred to me that since Thirkell published a book a year about everyday village life, the books she wrote during the war might have a special resonance for us right now. So much of what is written about past events is retrospective. The best novels integrate the past and the present (Swift’s Journal of the Plague Year draws on both the actual plague and the contemporaneous fears about a cholera epidemic, for example). But works that chronicle what is happening at the moment are rarer. TheH has never read Thirkell but enjoys midcentury UK fiction, so I’ve suggested some places to start (her oeuvre is large) and I’m going to reread some of the war years books with a new lens.
We’ve continued watching Vera and Maigret, but we’ve also been seeking out feel-good movies. To that end we watched The First Wives Club this past weekend. It is a total Hollywood vehicle and it doesn’t have a great IMDB rating, but we hadn’t seen it for a while and got a kick out of it. Part of the fun was watching extremely talented people deliver a highly competent, polished product. And it has three middle-aged women at its center, women who achieve their goals. How often does that happen? Yes it’s Hollywood schlock, but it’s extremely well executed schlock. Not just the star turns but the supporting roles are well done, as are the set decoration, the costumes, and the cinematography. And it’s still true, more than two decades later, that as Goldie Hawn proclaims, ”There are only three ages for women in Hollywood: babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy.” No wonder I like revenge comedies.
We’re also keeping up with the weekly installments of World on Fire, mostly for the excellent performances by Sean Bean, Lesley Manville, and the young actor who plays the Polish refugee. The scene where Manville tells off the schoolboys was classic, and the scenes with Bean and Manville together make up for the soap-opera storylines of the younger characters.
We’re still watching a couple of hours of news each night (local/BBC/Newhour), but we drift away and start making dinner when it gets to be too much. The disconnect between what is happening and what is being said in public is just too great sometimes, and I’m not just talking about the Dangerous Idiot President. We are giving hundreds of millions of $$$ in relief to big companies while we put low-wage workers on the front lines and threaten to take away unemployment benefits from people who don’t think it’s safe to go back to work. It’s enraging. We are a wealthy nation and we could provide safety nets for people at risk, but we don’t. As usual.
I’m cutting back on the time I spend reading my main three newspapers (WaPo, NYT, Guardian). Especially with the NYT and Guardian, they are running so many “how to do x in the age of coronavirus” that I want to throw the computer across the room. No one has to do x. It’s a pandemic! We don’t need TV recaps, we’re watching the damn shows. Or we’re not, in which case we really don’t need them. The first half-dozen stories about how Everyone Is Having The Same Issues You Are are heartening. After that, they’re filler. We are in a damn pandemic. It is not going away. Stop trying to sell us shit, including your newspaper. We’re already buying it, and more than a few of us are reading it for the news, not for the crap.
David Hare, the great playwright, has a diary entry in the latest New Statesman in which he summed up my problem with both the NYT and the Guardian (WaPo is bad but has never had a great arts section so the change isn’t as obvious to me):
… the absence of any featured analysis of what any work of art was actually about. For the Guardian, arts are purely an adjunct of lifestyle. They’re a box-tick.
YES. I’ve been reading the Grauniad intermittently for over 30 years and daily for nearly two decades, and the changes in the Arts, Lifestyle, and Society sections are huge. Today, it’s not enough to report that Stephenie Meyer has a Twilight book coming out (the whole shebang again, now written from Edward’s POV, because apparently there hasn’t been enough fanfic). No, there also has to be a column telling us why this is such a wonderful thing.
I was about to say that at least the Twilight news gave us a break from the Guardian‘s first-class carriage on the Sally Rooney Hype Train, but then I remembered the article about the lead male character’s gold neck chain. It apparently has its own Instagram account. I’m pretty sure that learning this shaved at least 25 IQ points off my previous score. It makes me want to cry, scream, and/or throw things. I miss real books and arts coverage.
Productivity is getting out of bed in the morning, making said bed, taking a shower, and turning on the work computer in my office. Isn’t it?
Yes, I do think that’s an acceptable minimum. But I am trying to do more than that, mostly because I feel better when I do. I managed a brisk, hour-long walk in the park on the weekend, which was my first decent outing in a couple of weeks (I walk the dogs a couple of times a day but that’s just in the neighborhood). It felt good.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to create a reasonably productive schedule once the semester is over. Right now I live on email and work around deadlines, but those are going to diminish considerably after the 15th, and I know I need to keep working for my mental health. I think I’m going to go back to logging hours, giving myself a reasonable goal every day and then trying to meet it. And adjusting it as necessary.
Grades! Virtual convocation planning! A faculty meeting that may or may not be pleasant. The fun never stops. But hey, it’s spring and our plants are flowering, and the weather is nice enough to grill outside.
Today was the first announced case of Covid in our province in over 2 weeks. It’s also currently the only active case in the province, so plans are still going ahead to allow some loosening of restrictions. NB has a 4 stage plan reopening plan, compete with a handy dandy chart that makes it clear we head back to total shut-down if Covid flares up again. We made headlines in Canada because a first step is to allow households to “pod” or “bubble” with one and only one other household. Lots of jokes about this being a way to confirm that our parents always liked you and your kids more than me and my kids. Most people I know are actually being very cautious; there’s a fair bit of worry that once the border restrictions are loosened, Covid will come back and hit here hard (this is a poor, under-resourced province with an aging population). We are all too aware that NB has been very fortunate.
We haven’t bother with trying to find another household to bubble with — we don’t have family here in the province. unlike many of friends nor do we have children who are longing to see their friends. So we are still just waiting for things to open up a bit more and using the phone and internet to connect with people.
I just received the library’s ebook copy of Girl, Woman, Other (was on the wait list for about 6 months), and I’m look forward to reading it. I heard Colson Whitehead just won his 2nd Pulitzer. The waitlist for his first winner, The Underground Railroad, was almost a year long when I last looked, so I didn’t bother at the time to even get in the queue. Maybe I’ll splurge this time and buy a copy of that or the new winner, The Nickel Boys, from my local bookstore. Although after reading your last blog post, I think a reread of LOTR is also in order. . . .
We are on our own here as well, although we spend more time talking to our neighbors when we’re out walking the dogs or sitting on our deck. That’s been nice. And work has structured our time as we get used to this life. I worry about how much bifurcation there’s going to be after the stay at home ends, with poorer and more at-risk people and front-line workers continuing to be affected while the more affluent reduce their exposure. Up to now we’ve mostly been in this together, partisan extremists notwithstanding.
I definitely recommend a reread of LOTR! Although I too have the Evaristo in my TBR. I was happy for Whitehead but I’ve read a fair amount of grumbling. And I was very glad to see the Anchorage newspaper win, they are a great local resource.
I don’t have much to say because my days blend into each other. Every day seems like the previous one.
Grocery shopping made last Friday a banner day. Trader Joe’s is doing a great job with social distancing—pylons six feet apart outside the store where people wait, allowing only so many people into the store at a given time, blue tape on the floor marking where to wait in line when checking out, plexiglass in front of the cashiers. I am impressed with them.
I sleep in a lot. I think I would feel better if I exercised instead. And given that I have some shortness of breath, cardiovascular exercise would make me at least a little healthier when the virus catches up with me. But waking up late makes it hard to justify spending the time that way. Also, I have put so much pressure on myself to do it that it’s become a daunting thing.
Does it ever happen to you that you are torn between two priorities, what you most want to do and what you most feel you should do? And that then, because you are conflicted, you do neither, and instead do a third thing while trying to make up your mind between the first two? A third thing that isn’t a priority at all?
It’s been happening to me a lot lately.
Because I started self-quarantining around mid-February, or perhaps a little earlier, I am coming up on three months of this being cooped up. Not surprisingly, it is getting to me emotionally. I expect that’s true for many people.
One weird thing: people all over the world are experiencing the same emergency situation at the same time. How often does that happen?
I spoke to my parents over the weekend and my dad said that in Israel (to those who don’t know, I am from there), people have been more compliant than here. They are used to emergency orders from the government there, and just as they can mobilize quickly, they can react quickly in general. Also, he said, those who are hospitalized are treated by a handful of different specialists rather than just one doctor. Hearing all this made me a little homesick.
I feel I should be planning more Skype calls and such, doing more cooking, working harder, having productive or interesting discussions with my spouse… but I am not doing any of these things. I’m sleeping in, posting on my Goodreads groups, and doing very little of what I want to do or feel I should do ( as I said before, it doesn’t help that the last two are often in conflict).
For a while, I was following the news via my mayor’s press conferences, but as this goes on, there aren’t as many new things happening, and it is therefore easier to check out. We still turn on the news a few times a week but that’s about it. As I say, the days are melding.
Although not nearly as harrowing, this way of living reminds me of a months-long experience of major depression that I had in my twenties. At that time, even getting out of bed and brushing my teeth felt like a monumental achievement. I am grateful that I’m doing so much better now. But there is a similarity there, still— a similar feeling of helplessness and slackness. It is not as much like trying to walk in the midst of a snowstorm with a powerful headwind that keeps pushing me back as it was then, but there are similarities.
Janine, I absolutely know what you mean about being torn between what I want to do and what I should do. It’s very difficult when you don’t have external pressures to get tasks done. I also think this is one of those times when people should be cutting themselves lots and lots of slack. It’s a very depressing and scary time, which makes it especially hard for those of us who have or are prone to depressive episodes. It’s not unnatural to be depressed when the world is depressing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to bear.
This pandemic shares some characteristics with the world wars, I think, not just with other pandemics. That sense of coming together to beat the enemy, not expecting it to go on and on, and then learning to live with a new normal, which includes horrific human loss. It’s not as extreme as the wars, obviously, but the loss of control and the sense of endless risk for oneself or others is ever-present.
I don’t exercise as much as I ought to but it does help. Don’t make yourself do a lot, just try to go out and walk slowly for 15 minutes. Even if I’m only walking the dogs, I still see trees and flowers and plants and squirrels and all kinds of other living things that don’t know there’s a pandemic. When I was recovering from my cancer treatments and was very weak and unfit, even a short walk felt like a huge effort. But it did help.
Thank you for being so kind and understanding. It is a rough time and yeah, harder on those of us who are prone to depression. I am not good at cutting myself slack but I’ll try.
The comparison to the World Wars (at least the homefront experience of them, not the battlefields or the concentration camps) makes sense, and it helps. Decades from now, people will look at this experience in context in a way that is harder to do now, from the middle of it.
I went for a 15-20 minute walk today and it was helpful. Our weather was in the upper seventies today but it was early evening, so the temperature wasn’t too hot. The sun was shining. We have jasmine and a jacaranda tree on our street and both were in bloom, so the air was scented and the streetscape decorated. I got some exercise that way.
I was with my husband and none of our devices were on, so it felt like we were truly together. Our attention wasn’t fragmented as it so often is.