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.

Confinement, day 3

I sat in my armchair and read for two hours today.

 

I tossed my phone onto the bench I normally sit on, far out of reach. I needed to quiet my brain down.

 

 

The sun was out. It was warm, so I opened the windows. I could still hear faint sounds of traffic, but mixed with those were also the sounds of birds, of neighbors popping up to their roof for a quick cigarette, of someone shaking a rug out their window. I could even smell the aromas of something really nice cooking from one of the apartments below.

 

 

And I felt myself relaxing, my brain quieting, my teeth unclenching–I’ve noticed that’s a new stress indicator for me now.

 

 

But my legs still crave stretching. I’m not sure that will ever change. Have to stay strong though, for however long this lasts.

Confinement, day 2

Things I wish I had with me, a growing list:

 

  1. My flute

 

All this talk of using the time we have while in this situation to learn or improve upon a skill/ability, and the one thing that came to mind for me was this instrument I hadn’t seriously thought about picking up again in years. And there was even a minute where I thought I had it stored somewhere here. But I was misremembering. It’s perched on a closet shelf, but that shelf is in my childhood bedroom in California.

 

 

Teaching with zoom has yet to result in the chaos some other of my colleagues were experiencing, but I felt the distance more with my students this time. In my literature class, the spontaneity, the free flow of conversation was gone, and all I felt was dead air. And then I felt as though my capabilities as an educator were being tested.

 

In between classes this afternoon, I went downstairs to take out the trash, and lingered in the courtyard a bit longer than usual. Most people had only been in isolation since Monday, but I’ve been inside four days at this point (yeah, the count in the title is off, but mostly because I chose to base it off of France’s official confinement start time). I needed to let my whole body breathe in air…yes, even the slightly smelly air next to the trash bins. Standing at my desk is all good, too, but my legs needed a stretch. I miss walking already.

 

I didn’t stay out too long though, maybe a minute. Enough for a brief respite before running back upstairs because the reminder of why I need to stay inside–because it might help save someone, or at least slow things down a bit–never leaves my head.

 

But then it’s in the silences once I’m inside that I think of the other thing I wish I had, and that maybe I’ll write more about one of these days…

 

2. Direct human contact.