Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year, Part the Twenty-Third - Busy

I thought lockdown would have more free time, really.

The thing about the current situation is that it has divided people into two broad categories.  There are people who are less busy than they were when the world caught fire.  And there are people who are more busy than they were then.

The people in the second category include the people who are justifiably being celebrated for keeping society rolling – the health care workers, the delivery and shipping people, the grocery stockers, the corrections officers, the retail workers, the teachers, and so on.  You’ll note that this does not really include the wealthy and powerful.  As someone pointed out to me the other day, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – the basis of much of the American right wing’s social views these days – is built around the idea that if a bunch of CEOs decided to take their marbles and stomp off in a snit all of society would collapse, and now thanks to the coronavirus we know for sure that this is patently absurd.  Let them go Galt for all that anyone cares.  The real makers are the ones doing the work, not the ones in fancy suits telling other people to do the work.

As an adjunct instructor and an academic advisor I’m not in the same category as nurses or food chain workers, but I am definitely in the category that got a whole lot busier over the last six weeks.

On the one hand, this is a privilege and I’m grateful for it.  I’m still employed, at least for the moment, and I’m happy to be working and earning a living, even if that is already being curtailed in some ways.  It turns out that paying off the mortgage back in December was a smooth move.

On the other hand, well, it is exhausting.  And that’s surprising.  Because you think, “Oh, I’m not actually going anywhere, am I?”  There’s no commute, there’s no office, there’s no running back and forth for errands or such.  I’m home pretty much all the time except for weekly grocery runs and the occasional trip to the barn for the chickens.  I’ve got the same jobs I had in February.  I should be full of energy and spare time.

But I’m not.

It turns out that everything takes a lot more time when you’re online.  Classes.  Appointments.  Meetings.  Everything.  All of the things you used to just DO are now formal processes.  And all those Zoom/Webex/Skype/BlueJeans/Teams/WoW meetings really do take more out of you than meeting in person.  It’s a different mental energy, and it’s draining.

My students in particular have been taken aback by this.  I bring it up in our meetings and they all, uniformly, get this look in their eye (assuming I'm in a video conference and not just a phone call with them) and then say “Yes!”  They’re so happy to discover that it’s not just them.  That this is normal for the situation.

You’re going to be exhausted by this new regime.  You’re going to feel you have no free time.  Because that’s what happens.

This is why people who tell you that you should have developed three new skills, written your novel, worked out until you have a body you could enter into contests, and learned a new language by now are just insane.  We’re doing all we can to get through the days intact.

Even the people who do objectively have less to do are exhausted by it all, from what I gather.  And of course they are.  The world is taking a lot out of people these days.

We’ll get through it.  More of us will get through it if we can keep a lid on the simpletons protesting for their right to drown in their own lungs these days, of course, but eventually this will pass.

Until then, we press on.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Journal of the Plague Year, Part the Twenty-First - Bookmarked

It’s odd how objects become important to you.

The ones that really matter are not usually the objects that would be important to anyone else.  The ones that really matter are the ones that no self-respecting thief would think to take and nobody would pay any money for, but they’re priceless to you.  They mean things, because they have stories.

I’ve always been a reader, at least as long as I can remember.  I learned to read fairly early and for most of my life I’ve never been more than a few feet from a book I was reading.  It’s what I do for work.  It’s what I do for fun.  It’s my great vice.  As vices go it’s not so bad, really – they’re inexpensive, nonperishable, generally good for your mental health, and unlikely to land you in trouble with the law, at least in the US, at least for now. 

It’s been a long time since I read the sort of books that you could finish in one sitting, which means that I need bookmarks to let me know where to pick up when I come to a convenient stopping point in the ordinary concerns of regular life and can finally get back to my book.  Sometimes this is just whatever random scrap of paper comes to hand when it’s time to close the covers.

And sometimes it’s not.

When my children were much younger, they made me bookmarks.

Oliver made the first one – the white one on the bottom of the photo.  Lauren, who has never been one to be outdone by her sibling, made the orange one not long after that.  At some point later the orange one got mislaid in my office for a few weeks so she made me the pink one to take its place.  It was a good day when the orange one turned up again and I was back to my full complement of bookmarks.

If you can’t tell, the two figures in the middle of the orange one are Lauren and me, looking off into the sunset together.  We’re at a beach, if I recall her explanation correctly. 

For a long time these were the only bookmarks I would use.  I carted them (and whatever books they were in) across the country, to work, and generally wherever I went.

But after a while the thought of losing them just made me worry too much, so I put them on my bookshelf where I could keep an eye on them, these things that my children had made for me because they knew how much I’d like them.

I don’t get out much these days.  Most people of goodwill don’t, after all, unless it’s essential.  Which means that whatever book I am reading at the moment spends its days making the slow cycle from home office to living room to bedroom and back again.  They don’t leave the house either.

So I’ve pulled out my bookmarks for service again, and they keep me company now.

My children are older now – adults in their own right, either officially or unofficially so.  But I remember when they were younger and gave me bookmarks because they knew I’d like them.  And because of that these small objects are important to me, and always will be.

Thursday, April 23, 2020