This week has felt like a thousand years, as I’m sure it has for most of us. We started getting warning emails about taking our teaching online last week, but it’s not easy to figure out how to respond to those warnings. I’ll go online when I need to go online, but until that moment, there’s not a whole lot to do. I mean, get extra training, rewrite the syllabus, etc. etc., but nope, I spent that time fretting and talking with the students who made it to class on Tuesday about what we’re all afraid of and what we think we should do. That was basically it for preparation.
And then the call came, late Tuesday afternoon, and that was it. I might see my students again in classes in April, but I’m prepared to not see them again until August. I hope that’s not necessary, because I miss them already.
I can’t believe it’s only Friday morning as I write this.
So then my Wednesday and Thursday were spent riding my bike downtown to take the shuttle to work, fretting about the office all day long doing I have no idea what, and then heading home, up the hill on my bike. When I’m riding my bike things feel a tiny bit normal, but only for a minute. Everything feels upended right now. My work life as I know it has vanished, and my work life is incredibly important to me. I build my world with my students and colleagues, and I don’t want a world that doesn’t have them in it, live and in person. We’ll be back, and we have to do this, and it is also sad.
Students reacted to the email canceling in person classes like it was a snow day. I’m not going to lie–me too. I’m tired, and Thursday off of teaching sounded good. But now it is setting in. I want one snow day, that’s it. I don’t want a disaster, a total shut down. I don’t want the absolute disruption of life for those without a whole lot of options. I’m worried for wage laborers, for service industry workers, for artists, for parents of children who are home indefinitely–what do people do???–and I’m worried for the aftermath, for the ways authoritarianism can ram itself through an opening like this.
My colleagues remind me I’m in good shape. “You’ve taught online,” they say. And I have. I’ve helped several figure out the tools they need to do what they need to do for the next few weeks. But I’ve only taught one fully online class, a three and a half week speed session this winter. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here too, folks, but I guess my pants are a little sturdier?
I don’t know. When I was sitting with my colleagues staring at Blackboard Collaborate yesterday it struck me that they didn’t really need my help with the technology. They needed my calm reassurance that whatever they could do right now would be enough. That we are all doing the best we can, and sometimes it’ll work and sometimes it won’t. And we might have to scrap everything and start over, because sometimes we have to do that, and that’s ok too.
I snapped this picture as I pushed my bike up the hill after work yesterday. I was talking with an old friend from grad school who teaches at a small liberal arts college. The scene felt like a picture of what has happened to all my plans for the semester, and it made me laugh. I wanted her advice for moving my research seminar online. She has a peer review worksheet she uses that she thought might work well. She’d email it to me. There’s a lot of swapping going on around me right now, and I’m grateful for it. Not only do I need the help and have help I can offer, but it dims the loneliness a bit. It’s scary out here, and I need the reminder that we can do this together.
And we have to do this, together. It goes against every individualizing tendency in our world. Judith Butler asks in the documentary Examined Life “Do we or do we not live in a world in which we assist each other? Do we or do we not help each other with basic needs? And are basic needs there to be decided on as a social issue, and not just my personal individual issue, or your personal individual issue?” I hope we can figure out how to help each other with basic needs, collectively. The state won’t save us, and neither will our institutions. In some cases it’s because they don’t want to.
And also, there just aren’t any easy answers here. This is a global public health crisis, and it is and will be absolutely ruinous for many of us. If there were an easy way to avoid this, or to manage the ripples of repercussions, we’d take it. Instead, we’re going to have to figure it out as we go.
My social media echo chamber is mostly academics experiencing a full range of human emotions about going on line. I get it. This is what we do for a living, it is our everyday, so it is, for us, the most important thing. But we are just one tiny sliver of the universe. I take my feelings right now, subtract my resources, and multiply by millions, and wow, this is devastating. Shutting everything down is necessary, and I hope it works, and I hope we take care of those of us for whom the shutting everything down is literally or figuratively death.
I’m going to miss everyone, but I’ll see y’all when it’s safe to go back out there again. For now, I can still ride my bike around, and I can figure out how to do best by my students, myself, my neighbors, and my community, most of whom will struggle through this far more than I will. Let’s all figure out how we can make things a little brighter–and safer–for the people around us.