ReaderWriterVille

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Category: reading

LFH: I’m losing count of the days

I’ve been neglecting my blog lately, and don’t ask me how many days it’s been since we went into isolation. 40? Something like that. We landed in STL on March 13th, came straight home and the great sequestering began. So that was 41 days ago. Tomorrow will complete six weeks. It feels much longer in some ways and shorter in others. Mostly longer, though.

Yesterday I taught my last two Zoom sessions. It was bittersweet. I’ll miss my students and I’ll miss the structure that teaching twice a week provided, but I won’t miss the exhaustion, stress dreams, and wakefulness in the middle of the night. I read that everyone is sleeping badly now and having bizarre dreams when they do sleep. There are reasons for this, but no remedies. But last night we both slept reasonably well, and I’m sure it’s because we aren’t mentally preparing for the next onslaught of Zoom sessions. The cognitive drain of Zoom is so much greater than face-to-face teaching, or any other kind of meeting, really.

On the happy side of Zoom, though, I had my first two Zoom Happy Hours. One was a replacement for our semi-annual conference dinners (one of the conferences would have taken place this past weekend) and the other was a Blast From the Past get-together with regular drinking buddies from my NYC days (only one of us still lives there now). It was terrific to catch up, even though in both cases the conversations had their depressing phases. Higher education institutions are not in good places now and things are only going to get worse. And we (the Zoom Happy Hour people) are the lucky ones. We’ll still have our jobs in four months.

My university furloughed 1300 people this week, mostly from the medical side, but the Arts & Sciences furloughs are coming. Budgets are being reworked. And so on. There is just so much uncertainty. It seems highly likely that we’ll be teaching at least part of the fall semester online, but no announcements have been made. The possibilities include starting online and finishing face to face, starting the semester later, and probably other options I haven’t heard about.

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LFH: Days 22-28

Another work week, another set of fires to put out. But I think they are mostly quashed and just smoldering at this point. It’s better to have something to do than the reverse, though. The College fielded a survey of the undergraduates and it reinforced my anecdata that they like having synchronous classes to show up to. It structures their days and gives them a little bit of near-normalcy. Unfortunately, most of their professors seem to have landed on the same approach to moving online, which is to give them more written work. And we thought we were being so original!

I went into Canvas, a course organization platform I do not like at all but which is now my most visited site, and checked to see if any of my students had disappeared. But all of them are at least checking the material, so that was a relief. Not everyone is “engaging” at the same rate, but I don’t think anyone is so far behind they can’t catch up. I’ll know better in a couple of days after I go through all of the students’ materials one by one and see where they are. I should have done this a week ago but my “spare” work time was taken up with all the other admin. Now that is mostly wrapped up and I can put some extra time into course maintenance.

I decreased the effort level needed for the final assignment of the class. Usually the students do a group project followed by a short paper. The group project went out the window as soon as we were back from break, and I replaced that and the short paper with a research paper or take-home exam. But after seeing the results of the survey and hearing anecdotally from my students that they were feeling overburdened by the overall changes to their classes, I revised yet again. They can write shorter papers with less research (plenty of thinking but not as much digging for material) or there is a second option where they have to write short reviews and reflections on each of the assigned readings. They had to do some of the latter anyway, so this involves doing it for all of the readings, not just some. I also left the take-home exam option because some students want that.

I wish there was more I could do. I want them to come out of the class knowing the material and having expertise in the subjects, but the usual assessment techniques seem unhelpful in this environment. I know they’re showing up because I can see what they’re doing. Some of my students have family members with the virus. Some have underlying conditions which put them in the risk category. Some are in hotspots and can’t go out and don’t have congenial workspaces at home. Some are cooped up with a bunch of family members. And yet they are there, reading the material and doing the worksheets and coming to the Zoom classes.

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LFH: Day 8

I finally set up my home office yesterday. I’d been dragging my heels, I think because if I didn’t do it I could more easily pretend (at least sometimes) that things hadn’t changed. I was still perching at my workspace to do things rather than fully committing to the face that I can’t go to my office anymore. It’s certainly not that I can’t work from home, I’ve done it my whole life and I live with a restricted workspace all summer. Anyway, I hauled everything out of the bags they’d been in and set up the monitor, dock, and work laptop on my desk. It all fit better than I expected.

The chair I use is not ideal, or rather it is not ideal given the height of the desk and the depth of the drawer space, but I put a pillow at the back and that gets me higher relative to the keyboard (I have a mechanical keyboard which is much more comfortable to type on than any of my laptop or portable keyboards). And I cleaned off the bed next to the desk and added yet another pillow so I can read or work on a lapdesk there when I’m tired of sitting at the desk.

It will be fine. Fine.

Workspace settled, I dealt with email and small work chores and then went for a walk in the afternoon. I went to the park, which was probably a mistake. I really wanted to get out and walk for a while, and it was a cold but (finally) sunny day. I knew I was risking more people going out in mid-afternoon on a Saturday, but I went anyway. It was fine for a while but there were quite a few people out walking and jogging (hardly any bicyclists, unlike last time), and by the time I was on the part of the circuit that took me toward home, there were enough people that maintaining social distance was hard. I managed it most of the time, but groups of three and four people taking up the whole sidewalk did not help. I was glad to get out of the park and back onto the street to my neighborhood. I’m not sure I’ll be doing that again. We have a treadmill and a rower in the basement, and if I want fresh air I can walk around the streets of my neighborhood.

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Carry on

Waiting to board the flight to LHR. The puffy is not as pink as the photo suggests, more of a subdued raspberry. But hey, it’s not black or grey! The waist pack goes into the Lowe when we’re on the path and the gaiters and rain gear come out.

I decided to leave the e-reader at home. It’s weird! But I have Smiley’s People in paperback.

More when we land on the other side.

SuperWendy’s TBR Challenge for February: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

I’ve decided to take advantage of the flexibility of the TBR Challenge and read books that aren’t necessarily romances. I’m still sticking to the prompts, though, and this month’s theme is “friends.” As I said in my last Weeknotes post, I’ve somehow never read any Tolkien and this seemed like the perfect time to rectify that gaping hole in my reading, especially since we have the print copy on our bookshelf and every library I belong to has an ebook version. And if there’s one message in the Lord of the Rings trilogy that carries through the film adaptations, it’s that friendship is necessary to human flourishing.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

How can you not love a story that begins with these sentences? I don’t know what I was expecting: probably something with lots of almost-too-precious depictions of Greene Olde England and elves everywhere. But what I got was so much more and better than that. This is very much a book that children can read and love, but it’s also a book that adults can appreciate and enjoy (and even love). I’m not a Young Adult reader at all in terms of contemporary literature, but this is classic for-all-ages literature and that is something I do like. The voice is charming and doesn’t talk down to the reader at all.

On to the story. Bilbo Baggins is a young hobbit of fifty or thereabouts, who lives in a very nice home at Bag End. Thanks to the machinations of family friend Gandalf the Wizard, he finds himself hosting a party of 14 dwarves for an impromptu and unconventional tea party. He is persuaded to join them on their journey to defeat the terrifying dragon, Smaug, who destroyed their home and dwarf community and took all their treasures. Smaug lives far away, past the Lonely Mountain, and to get there the dwarves and Bilbo will have to overcome many dangers. Bilbo is reluctant, but the non-Baggins part of him (which comes from the Took side of the family) decides to take the chance and accompany Thorin, Balin, Kili, Fili, and the rest of the rhyming crew.

As you have undoubtedly realized, this is a quest/coming-of-age story. Bilbo learns a great deal about himself and the world beyond Hobbiton and The Shire. They encounter elves, trolls, goblins, more elves, eagles, and other non-human beings on their way to confront Smaug, and Bilbo discovers unknown reserves of courage and resourcefulness that help his friends on their journey. He also finds a ring, courtesy of a goblin battle and the carelessness of Gollum, which renders him invisible and able to get everyone out of some very tight spots.

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