I just realized that the Weeknote number corresponds to the number of weeks since we entered self-isolation, which turned into stay-at-home, which has turned into The Way We Live Now.
I feel as if I should say something about the protests, riots, police brutality, etc., but there are so many people talking about it. Yes, it is my line of work, that is, I teach, research, and write about it, but I’m not sure I have much to say that is original at the moment, certainly not off the top of my head. I’ve been reading and thinking about it all the time, though, so maybe I’ll write something when I’ve worked through some of my thoughts.
In terms of our immediate situation, St. Louis and its suburbs have seen a lot of protest events and a few riots. We have been under curfew (9pm-6am) since Tuesday night, and there is no set end date. Nonviolent protests continue, scattered throughout the city neighborhoods as well as in various suburbs. Some of the protests have been organized by high-school students and teachers, which is heartening. The day protests have blocked roads for brief times, but there hasn’t been a lot of conflict. Our closest commercial neighborhood, which was the site of major protests and conflict in 2017, has most of its windows boarded over, which makes for an even more dystopian feel that its emptiness did before. It’s not a fun time, that’s for sure.
Administrative work is winding down. I’m writing copious notes for the memo I’ve been working on. It’s more than I need but I’m seeing patterns and ways to edit, trim, and produce something that is readable. I hate long memos, but there’s a lot to cover, between concrete information and suggestions for improvement. And they don’t have to take my advice, I just have the responsibility to give it.
We had an Arts & Sciences Town Hall meeting on the new timetable. I will indeed be teaching in the law school (as I have for the last four years), which means I’ll start teaching in August and finishing final grading in January. At least it’s only two small-ish grad classes. Still. I really would like to know what people were smoking when they came up with the schedule. No other university is using this approach. On the other hand, the deans did finally say that we should plan our courses as if they could be taught fully online, so the default I’ve been planning is now the official one.
My coauthor and I wrote up a bunch of notes on how to revise our rejected paper for its next submission. It’s not too bad, with rewriting rather than more research. And our other paper is proceeding. My coauthor is preparing to teach a summer school class for the next few weeks, so his terrifying rate of production should slow down a bit.
I’m supposed to be working with a couple of undergraduates who wanted to do research this summer. They were in my Protest class this past spring, which is good because that’s what we’re going to be working on.
I sorted through all the CDs in the garage, so now we have a wealth of music to listen to. We had more operas on CD than I remembered, alongside lots of rock, folk, and jazz. We’re not going to run out of choices any time soon, and it’s fun to revisit old favorites.
In terms of TV we’ve only watched a couple of Vera episodes, I think? Oh, and an old western movie, Nevada Smith with Steve McQueen. McQueen was playing a barely-adult young man when he was 36, but once I got used to that it was fine. Before the heat and humidity went to August levels this weekend, we ate dinner outside on the deck a few times and bypassed the TV.
I finished Network Effect right before the library hold expired. After 5 Murderbot installments I wanted something a little more mentally taxing, so I started Decoder, a Chinese spy novel by a writer I’d never heard of but who is a bestselling author in China. Two of his books have been translated into English. I’m two-thirds of the way through and I’m enjoying it, but it’s hard to slot into an Anglophone publishing category. There’s not enough action to call it a mystery or thriller, so it’s not that kind of spy novel (the promo material compares him to le Carre, which is not really apt). It’s engaging but very discursive. I have a feeling that if I knew the Chinese historical setting in more detail I’d pick up a lot more; there seem to be analogies and symbols that I’m not getting. Still, while it bogs down for me in places, I’m finding it interesting.
My library hold on Bill Buford’s new book, Dirt, came through and I started reading that as well. I think his first book, Among the Thugs, is brilliant, and I still teach it in my conflict/protest classes. I read an excerpt of Dirt in The New Yorker a few weeks ago and enjoyed it a lot, but the first 50 pages of the book are all about how he and his family use their amazing connections to settle in France so that he can train in the classical French tradition of cuisine. Reading about that level of privilege right now just isn’t something that I can do. It’s not Buford’s fault that I have this reaction, and indeed, the whole point of his books is that he inserts himself into unfamiliar surrounds and is treated with condescension and even abused, as he learns the world from the insider’s vantage point. But being able to do what he does comes directly from his privilege, and it’s especially jarring given the world around me. So I’m putting it aside and going back to it at a later date. Or maybe I’ll buy a print copy and dip in and out. I definitely want to read it at some point.
I made up my 20 Books of Summer challenge list and will pick something off that to read next. Hopefully it won’t have the same effect, but much of what is on the list is more amenable to our current contexts.
On June 1 I fulfilled my daily 750 Words goal and I’ve managed to repeat that success every day this week. I know I won’t hit 750 every day, but forcing myself to sit down and open the URL means that I get to work and write something. I’ve knocked off a number of tasks that way; hopefully I can get to more interesting writing than memos and revision responses soon.
TheH and I both splurged on new desktop computers, since it’s pretty clear we’re going to be working from home for the foreseeable future. I haven’t had a desktop in decades, but it’s great to have a big, fast machine. My laptops and tablets are fine for what I’ve needed them to do but they’re chosen for portability, so the luxury of lots of memory and storage space is a welcome change. I will need a separate camera for Zoom, and many of them are backordered for obvious reasons, but I have time for that. Finally I’ll have a computer that meets the specs for a Zoom virtual background. It’s ridiculous that my computers, two of which are fairly high-powered, don’t have the capacity, but that tells you something about the program. In a perfect world I wouldn’t have to use Zoom at all, but in this one I have no way to escape it.
The plants on the deck are doing very well. Since they’re all in pots they drink endless amounts of water, but we don’t forget since we’re staring at them. The tomatoes and pansies are particularly good at falling over all shriveled when they are thirsty, which saves them and everything else.
I have a couple of meetings and we have our weekly Zoom Happy Hour with old friends from my Columbia days. We’re hoping to social-distance-dinner with some local friends whom we haven’t seen in months as well. And we’re planning to leave the area! We’re going to go to TheH’s cousin’s cabin in Colorado for a few days. It’s just about doable as a straight shot (a very long driving day), but we haven’t finalized that yet, we just know we’re going. It’s exciting and also a bit scary. I can’t believe we haven’t left a 5-mile radius in 12 weeks.
I’m so glad to hear that you’re going to be able to get away for a few days. That change of surroundings makes such a difference. The last couple of weeks I’ve been going to meet a friend (outside, at a distance) half an hour’s drive away, and even that has felt amazing.
Thanks to your comment last week, Ros, I invited my friend/fellow warden who lives in my neighborhood to church in my backyard this morning and it was great! (My dog was thrilled. Finally someone else to pet her). I drove to the suburbs for an in person (backyard, socially distanced) meeting with our new rector, and that felt weird and amazing in so many ways. I’m not rushing to do too many things, but being face to face with someone really is nice.
This sounds wonderful! We are all inching back to something resembling contact with other people. Fingers crossed we can keep it going.
That’s wonderful, Liz! We had rain on Sunday, so I didn’t manage garden church but maybe next weekend.
This week, and its place within the global pandemic, has been weird for me. I’ve been, for the most part, silent and reading voices that are new to me of POC activists and authors. I have a lot of work to do to unpack what I’m learning, and to sit with the discomfort. While it’s unpleasant, I’m grateful to have the opportunity and that we are, at last, coming to this large of a reckoning. I remember being so disappointed and disillusioned after 92. I lived in Orange County and attended U.C. Irvine at the time, which was not an enlightened campus by any means. I have wondered many times since then what would have happened if we’d had social media then, and how the narrative would have changed from “can you believe they’re destroying their own neighborhoods?” to “holy shit, what the fuck are the police doing?”
But my white outrage is tiresome, and so I sit, and read, and think.
I’m frustrated by my own wordlessness, not about this but in terms of fiction. I’m stalled in the middle of two projects and I had thought (probably naively) that once my work situation settled down (which it has, I’m so grateful to say) that I’d “get my mojo back.” We’d even planned for it. But the pandemic hit my husband’s birthday weekend and rolled like a tank over my Spring retreat with my coauthor, my birthday, our community garden opening, and hiking plans. I struggle with agoraphobia, and all of a sudden the outside world matched my inside one. That’s been a drag. (Which is a dreadful understatement, but wut arr werds?)
On the upside, we’re both employed and able to work from home, so that’s an immense relief. My kid back in Chicago is still working, which is not a relief since he works in the food service industry. My brother in law, same industry but different (and stupider) state, is out of work. His state’s numbers are spiking like wildfire. So while there are upsides here, and I’m working hard to see (and act) this as a portal and not a hole, it’s definitely Work.
Which, all things considered, is not a bad thing. It’s not a comfortable thing, but it’s not a bad thing.
I joined a reading group. While not something I’d ordinarily do, the comfort of having a close-knit circle of folks of whom I can ask the naive questions is a relief (such as what is wipipo? what do I tell my Black friend when her neighbor acts out, instead of, as I’d done, to “just call the police” without ANY realization of what harms way that would put her into?). We’re reading Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How To Be an Anti-Racist. I’ve learned about performative support this week too, so I’m not even sure I want to share what I’m doing, but I’m sharing the reading group part of it more than the topic.
And I can’t help but think, even after “all this” is passed (hopefully with some better resolution than a flash in the pan), our real crisis of environmental cataclysm has yet to be addressed in any meaningful way. And so all of this angst may, in the end, be moot. That keeps me up at night.
And so, I am silent, listening, and I pet my cats and meditate. My privilege protects me, even as it breaks my heart.
It’s a very hard time. In a way it’s like post-9/11, in that the world is clearly shifting and we don’t exactly know where we’ll be as a society in six months or a year or five years.
I was in NorCal during the 1992 riots, and I remember them very well indeed. We could see the racism and the police brutality, but I think most people didn’t have a sense of how institutionalized and systemic it was, and it’s certainly continued over the last three decades. I wrote “it’s become much worse” but I’m not sure if that’s the case or it’s just that we can’t avoid seeing it (most likely the latter). If people can wrap their head around the fact that this is institutional, something that has continued through all kinds of political administrations, that may get us part of the way to somewhere better.
I just hope that the virus exploding again isn’t the cost of free speech and assembly. What a terrible dilemma we are confronted with.
Let me also express my happiness that you will be able to get away for a while . That’s about it :). Oh I finished first Ian Rutledge book . I liked . I will probably read couple more eventually till they all start feel samey.
Oh good, I’m glad it worked for you!