Confinement, day…48?

So, I know there’s a typo in the title of my last post, but honestly, I don’t really feel like correcting it because sometimes it really does feel like we’ve been stuck in this mess for 250 days.

 

That being said, given that the situation has not changed much here yet (though deconfinement will slowly–hopefully–be starting on May 11), anyone who is reading this right now is probably wondering “Effie? Why are you writing right now if your life has basically been one endless string of sameness for the past seven/going on eight weeks?”

 

Good question, hypothetical/invisible reader.

 

 

The short answer: I had a mild anxiety attack last night.

 

The longer answer: I haven’t been sleeping super well these past few weeks, and frankly, the mounting stress from being inside all the time has a lot to do with it. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go parading in the streets, demanding that hair salons and restaurants and bars open up so other people can put themselves at risk for my illusion of “comfort”. But I will be honest here and say that it is getting increasingly difficult to stick to the rigidity I imposed on myself when I first went into confinement.

 

To give an example: a couple weeks ago, I added a trip to Mamiche, a boulangerie just shy of 1km from my apartment, to my usual grocery run. The walk there took me and the two friends I was doing my socially distant shopping with all the way down to the bottom of rue Faubourg du Temple, right up to where it crosses boulevard Jules Ferry and then ends at Place de la République.

 

This is a walk that I normally take very regularly. It’s part of my usual early Monday morning walks to the gym, my excursions to the library, the main artery through which I access the rest of the city (well, for the most part, anyway). I could feel the muscle memory in my legs pulling me forward as we reached the bottom of the road that day, and then, at the same time, it hit me that it had been almost two months since I had last walked that far, since I had last extended my spatial radius beyond my now-routine grocery stops. The city has become smaller for me, in a way (and there are some potentially good things about this, but I’ll probably get to those another time), and I don’t think I realized the extent through which I would have to go about “taking it back”, re-appropriating this manner of existing or walking in an urban space I had come to know almost like the back of my hand until that moment when I both wanted to freeze and turn back and also drop my groceries and keep. Fucking. Walking.

 

I didn’t do either, obviously. I settled on a very large cinnamon bun instead. But that moment has been eating at me lately, and that destabilizing feeling of confronting the unfamiliar in what should be familiar ended up coming back again last week when those same friends and I coordinated a taco run to El Nopal (the first time I had grabbed food that someone else made to-go rather than making it myself in…about as long as this quarantine had lasted). In both cases, the necessary adaptations and limitations to our social interactions didn’t necessarily help things: say hello from a distance, no hugs of greetings or goodbyes, orbit around each other while walking down the street as though there’s an invisible wall (or alligator, if you’re in Florida) separating us.

 

Sometimes, I wonder if these in-person yet very limited interactions are helping or hurting things. I want to say the former, but I am also someone who (as my dissertation, and literally almost anything else I have worked on will attest) is very intuitively aware of limits/rules/regulations/structures intended to orient or impede natural and sometimes instinctive behavior. I don’t want to hug my friends because I don’t want to put them at risk in case I somehow am an asymptomatic carrier, but this mental reminder to not enter into contact has its own darker side: it reminds me of how solitary I am now, and how long it’s been since I last felt the pressure of physical contact with someone else.

 

This solitude came to a head last night. I was scrolling through my instagram and noticed so many posts about the New York Times’ Cooking section sponsored “Big Lasagna Night”. Basically, everyone makes an absolutely epic looking lasagna following a particular recipe, and then at 7pm Eastern Time (yesterday), all the lasagna makers and their creations would gather together on a live stream and feast…together but apart.

 

And I wanted a lasagna. But the only thing that I could think of, the one thing that was just nagging me was that I didn’t want to make a whole lasagna for myself. I wanted to share my lasagna. Hell, I don’t have nearly enough fridge space to store a leftover lasagna, even if I had made one. Sure, maybe I could have strategized and somehow planned things out to make a perfect little lasagna for one, but that’s not the point of a lasagna. A lasagna is ultimate comfort food, yes, but part of the joy in making it is knowing that you’re about to share in that comfort with others, that you will all dig into the same groaning baking dish, and that a little bit of the love you put into making this incredibly involved dish will get passed on to someone else.

 

And that’s when I cracked.

 

I managed to get to sleep last night eventually (mental exhaustion post-crisis tends to help with that), so I was at least able to convincingly pull myself back up to teach again this morning. If nothing else, at least that’s a break in the monotony of the everyday now (though the stress of needing to be ON IT, mentally, hasn’t been helping much).

 

Before I drifted off though, I did have a small moment of clarity, and that was that I missed writing here. Even though my thoughts are more ramble-y than usual, there is something therapeutic about writing all this down and shooting it off into a very public online platform for who knows how many (ok, like…4?) people to read. And on that note, I think maybe in the next few days, I’ll finally get around to doing what I told myself I would do, and kept coming back to last night: write posts about my dissertation, about the unanswered questions in my dissertation, basically, anything to keep at least some part of myself back in the theatre (at least until they reopen again).

 

 

Oh, and hopefully my next entry will be less morose.

Confinement, day 20 – 25O

I wanted to write in this on Monday night / Tuesday morning.

 

 

Or at the very least, right after I finished defending (more on that in a bit).

 

 

But…then I got a bit of food poisoning from…who knows what…so I decided to take things really easy. As in doing nothing easy.

 

As in sunning on my floor while reading easy.

 

But today was one of those days where I had to read aloud to myself so I could have something resembling a conversation (or have a voice to fill the silence), hence here I am.

 

 

First thing’s first, though: yes, I successfully defended my dissertation on Monday, April 6.

 

 

And it went well. Like, really well. Like, more than I could even have imagined well.

 

Of course, any of the many people who have tried to talk me out of my moments of imposter syndrome-driven crisis and who was present during that Zoom call would have probably not been surprised by that. But honestly that defense was the first time was able to get a hint of what they (and my profs) had been seeing the whole time.

 

Hell, I may have even finally figured out what the hell it actually was I was trying to do with this project. Funny how you have to be outside of the thing to start to see the threads of what it is you’re crafting.

 

Let me back up a second though. One of the main issues I came across with all this in the lead-up to the big day was the fact that nowhere on Harvard’s / my department’s website does it mention what it is that actually happens during a defense. As in, what the student should plan on preparing, and more precisely, how much time they should allot for.

 

Now, of course, the solution to this would have been to actually attend some of these things when I was still on campus.

 

Yeah.

 

In the end, I did get a time limit (~30min), and from there, basically drew from my many conversations with folks not in my field to craft as detailed – yet precise – a presentation of my work as possible, keeping in mind how I felt my work contributed or added something new to my field.

 

It’s this last part that I am convinced no one in the humanities really grasps the full extent of. When you’re working with data/numbers, it’s a bit easier to step back and see the bigger picture. But when. you’re working with ideas or concepts, it can be hard to pull yourself away enough from everything to see how it all really fits. And yet, there I was.

 

And I reread my dissertation one last time. On the advice of a friend, I took page-by-page notes as a means of keeping track of everything (honestly, a pretty good idea in all, even though I barely referenced my document), as well as to try and anticipate any questions on my methodology, on elements that were unclear or potentially polemical, on why I made the choices I did, etc. I think I maybe over prepared a bit.

 

And then the day / time arrived. I put on makeup and earrings for the first time in three weeks. I wore a black turtleneck (of course), and leggings because only the upper half of me needed to look professional (not going to lie, I was tempted to wear heels, but I test-drove that idea the day before and it was…quickly scrapped). I opened the call, people started logging in. I saw my advisor’s face for the first time in a year. I saw other folks’ faces for the first time in longer than that.

 

I saw in a virtual space for the first time people I cared about from my family, to my university friends, to my grad school / Harvard friends, to my Paris friends gathered together to listen to what I had to say. It was like the ultimate stage performance, only separated by many miles and connected via cables and wifi signals (and mine was surprisingly stable…well…for the most part).

 

And I presented. And it felt good (though also really weird because, again, as with my teaching, I could not read the room as I spoke, and there were moments in there where I thought I really was speaking into the void).

 

And then the comments from my advisor started.

 

 

And I felt really good. Like a meteor shooting through the sky good.

 

For the first time, I actually looked at my work and assumed it for what it was. And it was a triumph. Hell, one other committee member gave me unofficial “Felicitations”, which, for those unfamiliar with the French system, is a pretty big deal.

 

And yes, I am going to toot my own horn. I’ll toot it to the fucking moon and back again all night long, for all I care. This was six years of my life. Six years of success, but six of moments of absolute rock bottom shit and self-doubt as well. And fuck I loved the validation. I reveled in it. To think this thing that I wrote and that I still can’t help but nitpick at may be worth something.

 

And I don’t want this to be the last thing that I write that brings something new to the table, that adds to the academic conversation. I want to keep going.

 

I want to publish the damn thing.

 

And then write and publish more things.

 

Fuck it is so crazy the roller coaster that happens when you’re at the end of the PhD.

 

Speaking of which, I suppose I should change the heading of this blog at some point (because yeah, no, I’m not going to stop writing here). I’ll get to that eventually.

 

 

It’s funny, writing about all this really boosted my mood. I’m still holding on more or less well, but the silence was hard today. And there are still moments that I really wish I could just have a moment of physical human contact. Fuck, the weather’s getting warmer, and all I want to do is cuddle someone. Ha!

 

As I said during my talkback, though, I am full of contradictions. I live in contradictions. Contradictions are what make things interesting.

Confinement, day 16 – 19

As of April 2 (last Thursday), 15h00, I’ve officially been on “vacation”.

 

I was supposed to be on a plane for New York on Friday. And today was supposed to be a drive up from Connecticut to Boston. But, of course, that is not happening.

 

 

It’s strange, I never thought I’d see the day where I wished I wasn’t on vacation, but here we are.

 

And a really annoying thing about it? My strategy of purposefully giving my students assignments that I would have to grade over break in order to keep myself occupied (and thus not really giving them homework over the holiday to take some of the edge of all this off) has gone completely belly-up thanks to the absolute “genius” work of the Ministry of Education.

 

In brief: baccalaureate exams are basically cancelled (which makes perfect sense, since no one knows when schools will open again…and yeah, that May 4 predicted reopening is basically nonsense). Instead, the baccalaureate grades will be the average of all term grades for each subject.

 

Now, already there are some issues here, chief of these being 1) not all schools grade the same way, and 2) the particularities of our present situation.

 

For the first point: I can’t speak for other schools, but I can tell you that as far as my school is concerned, we grade very hard. We don’t needlessly punish our students, but given the school’s reputation, we are very demanding of them in terms of how much effort we expect to be made when completing assignments (not necessarily that everyone must be perfect at everything, but they must at least try. We try and help those who are struggling). What this means, however, is that some of our struggling students might, on paper/just based on those marks appear to be on the cusp of failing their bac, but on the day of actually end up doing pretty alright, if not excellently.

 

Furthermore, and this is a more broad statement, it’s also very true that some 12th graders will literally do the bare minimum and then cram in the weeks leading up to the actual bac, and then wind up getting a decent mark. It’s a ridiculous strategy, yes, but it happens. They now have a very real chance of actually failing/scoring much lower than in a real-world scenario.

 

As to the second point, this one more directly concerns me, and it actually makes me a bit angry. But first, some points to consider:

  1. My school has been very lucky in that we had the funds (and our students have parents that also had the funds) to have been able to quickly set up our “virtual” classrooms via zoom almost immediately following the announcement of school closures. As such, we have been able to continue teaching our students (technical glitches notwithstanding) as more or less “normal” for the past three weeks.
  2. Unfortunately, it is also estimated that between 5 – 8% of school-aged children in France have seen their education fully interrupted. Reasons for this range anywhere from the school not having the proper infrastructure in place, to (and the more likely) families not having available computers/tablets or even internet access at home for their kids to use to access educational material. One of the public television channels has been airing programming aimed at high school students every day in order to give them some access to material that is part of the national curriculum, but what about students whose families don’t have a television, or for whom there is no space at home to quietly study?
  3. In light of the above, the decision was made by the Ministry that even though the final bac grades would be an average of term grades, any grading done for assignments given during quarantine would not be counted in the third term grade average.

Basically, all the work teachers not just from our school, but other schools that have been trying to get virtual classrooms set up has been for basically nothing. It’s almost like we’re working for free.

 

Oh, and the Ministry wants to extend the school year through July 4.

 

 

This, all this, on top of how “on it” we have to be all the time, how much we have to make sure we are there and we show up for our kids to try and bring some normalcy back into their lives. This, while at the same time there is a minister in government who openly disdains us and our job, suggests that we are “lazy”, scoffs at the thought of instituting pay raises nationally, and generally has no fucking clue what it means to be a teacher.

 

And I am exhausted. I am straight up dreading what’s going to happen after Monday because even though I could feel myself carrying the mental load in terms of holding back my frustrations so that my students could let out theirs, I didn’t mind it. It gave me something to do, in any case. And now, with this, what the hell is going to happen once the “break” is over? Will I even have any of my 12th graders showing up? The school is going to send an email to parents explaining why all students should still show up and put in an effort, but holy shit it’s like these decisions were only 50% (if that) thought through.

 

Should the bac have been cancelled this year? Oh yeah. The system–try as they might to insist they are not–is already unequal in normal conditions, and this situation just exacerbates that. But, fuck, could they take a minute to think about the implications of their decisions beyond that first one?

 

 

The inequality gap is going to get worse by this.

 

 

And now I have to design pretty much a whole new curriculum to carry my students through to the end of the year.

 

 

At least that will give me something to do.

 

 

Maybe I’ll just make them all watch Twin Peaks and then write presentations trying to explain everything. Those would make about as much sense as this nonsense.

Confinement, day 14 – 15

In less than a week, I will finally be defending my dissertation.

 

 

And I have no idea how to even begin processing that.

 

This doesn’t so much have to do with the circumstances surrounding the defense–virtual versus in-person–but more what it means for me, for my “status” in the world, for how I identify myself.

 

It’s one step closer to leaving the label of “student” behind, and I am almost afraid of the possibilities, of the unknown that will come after.

 

 

Researching and writing my PhD, being in the middle of my work rather than at the end of it has become almost as integral a part of me as any of the other elements of my personality. To be honest, I feel like it made me more interesting. I mean, there’s a difference between saying that you’re “working on a PhD” as opposed to you “have a PhD”. Working on something implies activity, the process, whereas the latter, in its stasis, becomes something more akin to a status symbol. And this is not to minimize anything I or anyone else who has been through this gauntlet has done, but there are certain avenues of engaging with others when you are in the middle of an intellectual project that disappear, in a way, when that project is finished.

 

 

And maybe I’m not making much sense right now. Hell, I’m having trouble unscrambling my thoughts from my head enough to coherently write them down here.

 

If nothing else though, prepping for next Monday has at least given me some needed distraction from my current state of isolation.

 

 

 

 

Confinement, day 10 – 12

So, I caved and baked cookies today.

 

Sablé cookies, to be more precise. Essentially, they are kind of a mix between a basic butter cookie and shortbread (though I will say my preference is more for those that lean towards the latter), and the basic recipe is simple enough that customizing it is a breeze. I added lime zest to mine.

 

 

Truth be told, I chose to make these because I was missing my weekly sablé and coffee stop at La Fontaine de Belleville yesterday, and needed something to lift my spirits. Granted, the sablés I made today were not quite the same as the ones I have when I’m there, but they did the job fine. And anyway, you kind of have to take what you can get now.

 

 

The confinement has also officially been extended till at least April 15. I love that phrasing: “at least”. At this point, we all pretty much know that it’s going to go on longer than that, but it’s almost amusing that there’s this little game of anticipation happening. Almost.

 

 

Humor is another one of those things I’ve been finding in odd places nowadays.

 

 

It also has yet to dawn on me that my dissertation defense is in just over a week. I still have yet to make a powerpoint. Thankfully, the weekend is coming.

 

Then again, as one of the cashiers at the Middle Eastern epicérie where I stopped by to pick up some essentials after my larger Monoprix haul pointed out after his colleague wished me a good weekend after ringing me up, “Il n’y a plus de weekends”, “There are no more weekends.”

 

 

 

 

Confinement, day 8 & 9

Things I wish I had with me, part 2.

 

3. Mesh for my windows so that I can open them without worrying about unwanted visitors coming in.

 

And no, I’m not just talking about flies or other insects; I’m talking about pigeons.

 

That’s right, today a pigeon almost flew in through my open window while I was teaching. I think I have mentioned before what a precarious set-up I have regarding my standing desk, so you can imagine how quick I was to reach out and slam that window shut, leaving the almost intruder staring suspiciously at me from my window sill. Too bad, pigeon. Today is not the day my computer gets toppled over by your stupid choices.

 

It’s strange, but I can feel myself almost getting used to this being by myself for an indeterminate period of time thing. Not sure I should be worried about this, but here we are. In any case, it’s better than stress. I think constantly reminding myself that me being inside means that maybe, eventually, hospital staff won’t feel as overwhelmed because the outbreak has slowed down has helped. In any case, it’s a better source of motivation for me than thinking “Oh I better do this because I’m following the rules.”

 

It taps into more of my need to spread care, to make sure others are okay.

 

 

And the State and its ordonnances have nothing to do with that.

Confinement, day 7

Well, I finally did it.

 

 

I finally gave in and made pasta.

 

Cacio e pepe, to be precise (though I did have to substitute Parmesan for pecorino…and I also added peas and red pepper flakes at the end…so…not exactly traditional).

 

Even with the modifications, though, it was an admittedly very comforting bowl of pasta.  Actually, to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I made pasta at home. Wheat-based pasta, I mean. I kind of started cutting it out of my regular rotation a couple of years ago when I was working to get better results on my workout regimen, and I just, never introduced it back.

 

Time went by surprisingly quickly today. Maybe it’s just something about Sunday…

 

Or maybe I’m starting to get used to this being indoors indefinitely thing.

 

 

I really hope it’s the former.

Confinement, day 6

My knees are aching from sitting too much.

 

As soon as this has all blown over, I am going to take the longest walk I’ve ever taken around this city. And I won’t wear headphones to listen to music or a podcast while I do it, either.

 

 

A friend of mine started a dance challenge on Instagram today. I got tagged in it, and when I went to pick out what song to dance to for my contribution, I landed on “All of Me” by Tanlines. Well, I say “landed” but what I really mean is that I picked the first acceptable song from my liked tracks on Spotify, since I didn’t want to take the time to go through the entire list. It had been ages since I last heard that song. Listening to it felt quite good though, and after dancing around for a while, I have to say, I did feel quite a bit better.

 

 

Actually, speaking of music, it’s so odd not hearing any waft up from Café Cheri. The only sound I hear right now is the periodic lite banging of my bathroom door (it doesn’t close properly, and I leave the window in there open a crack to air it out…and it’s windy out).

 

It’s funny, when I woke up this morning, I distinctly remember the first thought that ran through my head was that I’m 30 years old. 30. I don’t think I’d thought about that since my 30th birthday back in November. Strange how the mind tends to fixate on otherwise minor or mundane details in times of stress. I can’t even say why I’ve been thinking about this, other than the fact that in no way do I feel 30. Maybe it was just the number that my mind was drawn to–this one constant, unchanging thing that will always be the same no matter what nonsense happens elsewhere. 30.

Confinement, day 5

My graduation ceremony was officially postponed today.

 

I had a feeling it would happen–I mean it makes sense right now, right–, but it still…sucks.

 

 

And anyway, I should still feel lucky, right? I’m still going to defend, it will still (hopefully) go well, and I’ll still have a degree come spring.

 

 

 

But if things felt like they had all the fanfare of a deflated balloon before, now it’s like a balloon mixed with a bag of sand. I wanted one last moment of pomp and circumstance. Now it just feels like this whole thing is going to just waft away. And maybe it should. There are more important things than a dissertation about theatre, after all. Honestly, the more I think about it, the more I wonder whether or not there’s any usefulness in what I’ve been working on, if it could do some good somehow.

 

 

It’s just…I wanted something to go right, some good news. I feel the circumstances of the current state of the world are threatening either to pull me apart from people or otherwise make any maintenance of connection more difficult. The first is hard, but the second…I really hate the second.

 

 

 

I did go outside for a bit today though. Just for some grocery shopping and then it was back inside for at least the next week, but it did some good. Rumor has it this confinement will end up lasting longer than the initially announced two weeks…but we all already knew that. If it ends up going until May, however, this weekly outing might end up being a bigger relief than it already was today.

 

 

It’s not easy being alone with your thoughts all the time. Have to stay strong though…

 

 

 

 

Confinement, day 4

As much as I almost hate to say it, I honestly think the thing that’s helped me get through this week the most has been teaching online.

 

I mean, it kills a couple hours a day, at the very least.

 

 

 

Tonight during the 20h00 applause for the healthcare workers, I saw the neighbors who live across from me for the first time. Well, saw them clearly, more like.

 

They’re a young couple. I was already leaning out my window when they finally opened theirs. We didn’t greet each other; there was just a moment of acknowledgement. The girl started clapping, and I put my phone away (I was filming the scene right before then) and clapped along with her. A moment of solidarity.

 

 

I keep seeing photos and videos of people outside, flaunting the confinement measures in an attempt to prove how overblown this all must be and how invincible they are. I mean, I won’t lie, given how lovely it was out today, I would also have spent the entirety of my afternoon outside, and yet…here I am.

 

 

And normally, I’m all for pushing boundaries, especially when those boundaries are set in place by a system that I fundamentally disagree with. But these are not normal circumstances.

 

I want this to end sooner rather than later, though I know we’re in for the long haul. But every day this selfishness keeps happening is another day (at minimum) the rest of us will have to spend almost entirely cut off from our surroundings.