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.

Confinement, day 1

Today, I had to chastise a student for videoing in to our virtual classroom while they were DRIVING THEIR CAR.

 

 

I think that short statement is enough to give a reasonably accurate description of this first day of a “yet-to-be-determined” lockdown.

 

 

Overall, not too bad…yet. I made sure to do my morning workout as usual, as well as keep to the rhythm of my morning routine as best I could (including showering and putting on a proper shirt instead of slugging around in sweatpants) so as to have some kind of normalcy in my day. One admittedly nice thing was that I was able to actually do a longer (and more intense) workout this morning, since I didn’t have to deal with the added stress of catching a train. Yay.

 

 

First day of teaching on Zoom was…interesting. It went alright in the sense that the technology worked fine, and discussion was able to be facilitated in a way that didn’t turn into total chaos, but not even an hour in I was already getting this strange feeling in my stomach…like something was not quite right. It’s partially the screen and the fact that all of us are so removed from each other spatially (and to a degree, temporally) when normally we are in the same present spatiotemporal moment in regular class time.

 

 

In short, I think I am really going to miss being in front of my students. And it didn’t quite hit me until I was in front of my 12th graders.

 

 

To be clear, one of those 12th graders was also DRIVING THEIR CAR WHILE VIDEO CALLING (yeah I’m going to keep putting that in all caps), but this particular class is still very special to me for several reasons, chief of which being the fact that they are the first class I will have seen from 10th – 12th grade (the high school here is 3 years instead of 4). The thought that we may not have another in-person class together is something that I am going to likely be grappling with even more as the days (or weeks…or months) continue on.

 

One thing that helped get at least some semblance of being in a classroom though was creating a sort of “standing desk” situation by placing a stool on top of my coffee table, two puzzle boxes on top of the stool, and my laptop on top of the boxes. Honestly, anything that keeps me from sitting down all day is a godsend at this point as far as I’m concerned. Because sitting has meant nothing but restlessness…and stress. I tried reading a bit…it didn’t work.

 

 

My other strategy: yoga in the evening. Who knows, maybe I’ll become super flexible by the end of this (unlikely).

 

 

And if all else fails, there is always the option of sticking my head out the window briefly and letting some of the fresh air and echoes of the sounds of the city in. It’s getting very quiet here, the kind of quiet that I normally only hear on Sunday mornings. An anticipatory, yet also melancholy quiet.

 

 

But a necessary quiet. Our individual actions can end up determining the magnitude of the wave that’s about to hit. It’s our responsibility to take care that those around us stay safe.

 

 

In the meantime, there’s always group video chats with friends over drinks to keep spirits up.

And just like that…

It’s done.

 

 

It’s done and submitted.

 

And now all there is left to do is wait.

 

 

To be quite honest, I am almost in a state of disbelief still that I managed to submit the thing when I did (March 13, and thank goodness the due date got pushed up). For one thing, this project has been in my mind in one form or another for the past six years. I lived with it, planned my life around it, grew with it, struggled with it…and now, it’s done.

 

 

And I almost feel adrift, as if I am not quite sure where to go from here.

 

To be honest, the current state of things isn’t quite helping matters. I want to celebrate this moment, but then I feel guilty for even thinking that because there is something incredibly more pressing happening in the world right now which should 100% take precedence over my feelings. I will not lie though, it is very, very, difficult to go from a somewhat egotistical place of thinking that soon you’ll get your moment to be the center of attention as people gather to hear about your research accomplishments to a place of selflessness. But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve been having an easy time transitioning back into the latter, shoving the dissertation to the side and prioritizing what I could do right now to make the coming weeks (and likely months) easier for others. I want to scream and stamp my feet and throw a tantrum and make this whole thing stop for just a while, be selfish and insist that I get that final moment that’s “owed” to me.

 

And I am very likely not the only graduate student set to finish/defend this year who is thinking this. But I think the fact that this final step was, for me, the culmination of years of schooling, the last step before leaving the role of “student” for good has made the urge to write this all out here more pressing.

 

I know that all this will pass…eventually…and that things will get back to something resembling normalcy soon. But that latter part also scares me because, if history tells us anything, we will have put this all out of mind by the time normalcy comes back again. There’s a reason why hubris is such a common theme to treat in tragedy.

 

 

In the meantime, I am now a PhD candidate with a submitted dissertation. I still think it can be improved upon, but honestly, the moment that I typed the last keystroke and that I finally (finally) figured out how to deal with the whole pagination thing on Word (took way longer than necessary), I felt at once light and…a heavy emptiness. I had to take a few minutes to look at my title page and process everything after I had converted the document to a PDF just to be sure it was real. Scrolling through all the pages brought back so many memories of writing sessions at home, in Greece, at the BNF, in California, and at La Fontaine de Belleville, times when I didn’t think that this day would ever happen, when the thought of writing near 300 (yeah, not counting the front/back matter, it’s about 269 pages) pages on theatre critiques seemed impossible, never mind that I had come very close to that before during my first masters (and that one was in French, too).

 

But then I felt this weight hit me when I remembered that there was nothing more left to do. I had no more great project that needed dealing with in the immediate future. Of course, others will come along, but in the present moment, it’s hard to envision that far ahead.

 

And I also could not help but laugh at the cruel irony of the situation. It’s a shame, really, that the current pandemic had to happen this year instead of last. Social distancing and self-imposed (but INCREDIBLY necessary) isolation are, after all, the perfect times to hunker down and write something like a dissertation.

 

I mean, Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague, Boccaccio used a quarantine during the Black Death as a frame story for the Decameron, likewise for Chaucer with The Canterbury Tales.

 

Meanwhile, I wrote a dissertation.

 

Yeah. The bar is a bit high.

 

 

So what am I doing at this point? Well, other than trying to keep thoughts about the inevitable cancelling of Commencement at the end of May (still keeping my fingers crossed that it ends up happening, but then I remember who is in charge in the US right now) out of my head, I have some grading to catch up on, puzzles to do, shows to watch, and, eventually, an apartment to deep clean.

 

Because I might as well make my living environment look nice for the foreseeable future.

 

And in the spirit of the great writers of the past–and also because I would like something more creative to do–, I am going to make a point of writing in here daily. One can think of it as a social distancing journal…but public. Who knows, maybe something interesting will come out of it (though this may have to wait until the second week of this, if not earlier). Hell, given how my job is going to be organized these next few weeks, this may just end up being a review of what it’s like to teach on Zoom (spoiler alert: I am both curious about and dreading this).

 

In the meantime, I have a small pile of essays from my 10th graders that is calling my attention. One of them used the word “boobies”. I have lost all hope.

 

 

Until next time

-Wash your hands

-Stop touching your face

-STAY HOME!!