Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Has it really been a month?

 Time expands and contracts at a different rate now, as I'm definitely not the first to notice. Here are some random bullets until I can write a real post:

  • We're teaching online (synchronously) and I am so far enjoying it. That's heresy, I know, but I feel much more relaxed with the students and much, I don't know, better and more connected to them. I asked the students whether they wanted recorded lectures or live ones, and they voted for live; in a humanities discipline, there's a lot of Q & A that goes on in the midst of a class, so it probably works better for this class. Not having a long commute is really helping, too. I'm really enjoying the students, and I love being able to show them books without having to lug them a long distance. I bought a document camera, and it's great for this. 
  • I had promised the students that I'd be on campus for in-person check-ins sometime, but our campus, like some others, is Covid Central right now, so maybe I'll postpone that. The powers that be don't want us on campus; they wisely want us to stay put, so who am I to argue? 
  • It still took many, many--too many--hours to scan, upload, and prepare the classes, like maybe 50+ hours over the course of a couple of weeks. That's without recording any lectures! 
  • But I did quit my admin job, as you all so wisely advised, or rather I let my contract run out though I'd thought about continuing. After spending pretty much all my time last spring and this summer on administration, it's a relief to take a deep breath. My colleagues were gracious about it, and I had definitely done enough and left things in good shape.
  • As if to fill up the void, let's see: family drama surrounding my mother's estate takes a fair chunk of my week every week, and having the landscape try to kill us with fire, deadly smoke, and of course the ever-present pestilence is really distracting. Let's not even talk about the political situation, which is terrifying.
  • I don't know how people are managing to write. I can barely keep up with the reading in the courses I'm teaching, and yes, I understand it's worse for the students and am cutting them all kinds of breaks. 
 Happy first day of fall!


Friday, August 21, 2020

More pictures

I have a syllabus to do (don't we all right now?), but here are a few more pictures from the little house. As you can see, the furniture gets moved around quite a bit, except for the bookcases. 

What looks like a blue studio couch is actually the chair, which folds out like a Transformer.
Here's the chair in chair form. The unit on the wall is an Amana heat pump for heat & AC.
You can see the bookcases against the wall. The windows on that side are small, like the one over the desk, just enough to give a cross breeze.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Writing House

(This may be a temporary post because of the pictures, but I'm so happy that you want to hear about my little writing house.)

The New York Times recently posted an article about backyard offices, and for once I may be ahead of the curve.

You see, for decades I had talked about wanting a writing house. I looked at all the pictures online and dreamed about it, as longtime readers know. 

Finally, when we were out from under many years of paying off student loans, Spouse said, "If you want this, we should do it," so we saved up and got it built. It's a permanent Christmas/birthday/anniversary present and better than any other present could be.

I'm not Michael Pollan with acreage in the woods somewhere, so it's in the back yard. 

We decided on 12 x 16, the largest we could have without a permit in our area. We hired someone to build it, so it has frame construction, insulation, and tall ceilings. 

It's a functional 4-season space, with A/C, heat, and wifi. The lights inside are bright enough to illuminate the whole space, and it's quiet.  It's not an art studio filled with decorative elements like in the NYT piece and elsewhere online. (I've made quite a study of these little structures, clearly.) 

 It's meant for work, with 4 bookcases, a desk and desk chair, and two chairs for sitting, including the rocking chair.

Inside, I can sit at the desk and write, or pace back and forth, or read in the rocking chair. I can and do stay up late without bothering anybody, when the writing is going well, which is often late into the night rather than in the morning. 

What else to say about it? Having this space makes me happy every single day, no matter what else is going on. 

I'm clearly besotted with this little house, and although I have looked at a lot of them online, this one suits me right down to the ground. 

What would you have or want in your writing house?



Monday, July 27, 2020

Online it is and random bullets of other news

  • What is happening in the fall? It's official: our undergrad courses are online in the fall unless there's some really pressing need (like lab science courses) to be in person. That's a huge relief. Grad courses: about the same, although I still have an assigned room.
  • Writing inspiration: lately I've been time-tracking rigidly, as in "9:40-9:43 stood up & got a snack." It seems to have helped productivity. 
  • Chasing that writing feeling: But nothing has been as good as when I sat down last night at around 9:45 p.m. and the writing just flowed, for the first time in forever. No anxiety, no fidgeting, just writing. It felt good. At 12:30 a.m., Spouse came down and asked what was wrong. Nothing is wrong, I told him. I'm writing. It was lovely.
  • Enough is enough. Doing about two official things in a day--two Zoom calls or whatever--is apparently about enough, for my body shuts down and I fall asleep sitting up after that. It's never for very long, but it happens. Residual stress, maybe? 
  • Absence from social media is good for the soul. If FB is to be believed, I am literally the last person in this part of the U.S. not to have gone on or be planning to go on vacation--a car trip, a camping trip, a hiking trip, renting a house at the beach. These are all COVID-conscious academics and relatives, yet everyone is going away. So the strategy here is twofold: (1) stay off FB and (2) have fun planning a really passive-aggressive autoreply for when they all get back from their vacations and start bombarding me with emails. (I won't do it, but I want to.)
  • A post about a secret to share. COVID news is fine, but it feels as though between the political hellscape and COVID, we could all use a break to talk about something else. I would really like to share a secret with all of you blog friends: I have a little writing house and want to tell you about it, if you are interested.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Invictus, I guess, and maybe some writing inspiration

Are you finding you're having good weeks and bad weeks in coping mentally with the way we live now?

This isn't meant to be a complaint. I have nothing to complain about--no child care to worry about, enough space & time to walk, the strength to get my own groceries (23rd Psalm motto: my mask and my gloves, they comfort me), a car, etc.

But at the end of the day, I'm hard pressed to say what I did, especially in terms of intellectual work.
  • Some days it's a few hours of meetings: some colleagues, when I say "we've been on Zoom for 90 minutes; it's time to wrap up" will say "just this one thing then." Sometimes I simply say "gotta go" and bail anyway. But that still leaves a lot of time to read & write, so why don't I?
  • Some days--well one day every 2-3 weeks--it's grocery day, so I mask up (I only have one mask, having lost the other) and drive around and get what we need. I come home, do the Silkwood shower, and get to work, or try to. 
  • Some days it's sit and obsess about the fall classes, which are not totally online, even though I'm trying not to. 
  • Some days, once I've gone for a long walk, which I try to do every day, I just want to admire the trees. 
  • If I do an article or manuscript review, well, then--I'm done, right?
  • There's always cooking and baking and some laundry, but I look forward to those tasks, because I get to watch old comforting TV then and not otherwise, a self-imposed rule. Spouse has always done the laundry, but he has backed off after seeing from my woebegone face that I couldn't spend 20 minutes watching The Crown or The Office if I weren't folding clothes.
Last week was the week of magical thinking about writing.
  • If I sit down to write before breakfast, I will write.
  • If I walk first, before breakfast, I will write.
  • If I walk, then shower, then eat breakfast, I will write.
  • If I change it up and eat, then walk, then shower, I will write.
  • If I start at 8:30, I will get in the habit of it and write.
 You get the picture. I figured that there was a magical sequence to daily activities and if I could just get the sequence right, the writing would follow. It was a helpless feeling: oh, no, I've got the sequence wrong. Too bad about today!

Then on Monday something snapped: it's just writing. There is no magic sequence. It's just writing. If you break out in a fidgety cold sweat when you sit down to write, well, pick up a book and start reading, and you'll want to write fast enough.

Someone Being Wrong on the Internet is nothing to Someone Being Incomplete in a Book for getting your writing juices going.

I control the process. Me, not magic sequences. It may be lousy, but what comes out is still writing.

Henley's words*:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

*Yes, I know: imperialism, yadda yadda, but it helped in the moment. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Our plans aren't firm, but yours had better be

There's a steady drumbeat across the land. Do you hear it?

It's called "what are you doing in the fall?" and unlike the university, which has an infinity of time to make up its mind, we instructors are supposed to make ours up tout de suite.

What we still don't know:

1. Whether and how obvious steps like providing masks for everyone are going to happen.
2. Whether we're supposed to teach in masks or those face shields. I have an issue there with face shields, because I can't have anything on my head or I get a raging headache (even winter hats and headphones bring this on).
3. Whether modifications are going to be made to the open toilets in the bathrooms so that they're not spewing virus.
4. Ditto door handles--can we get something better that doesn't require you to wrestle it to a standstill with both hands?
5. Where our classes will be held. This is kind of a Catch-22, and it's not all the university's fault; they can't assign rooms until they figure out who's going to be on campus. But by the same token, we need to know if we're going to have to teach in a poorly ventilated--i.e., no windows--classroom for up to 3 hours at a stretch.
6. What's going to happen if people do show up with a temperature. This last is extremely concerning, because by that point, the person may have already infected people, including people with vulnerable family members. (Raises hand.) Checking to see if people are sick: good, but not enough. This isn't the flu, where there are treatments. People often die or are disabled by this disease.
7. What magic fairies are going to clean the classrooms often enough to make a difference.
8. Where the additional recording equipment, cameras, and helpers for the in-person and online recorded materials are going to come from. 

What we do know:

1. We instructors need to let them know what we're planning in about 10 days.
2. We are strongly encouraged to teach in person for the good of the university.
3. We need to let them know what our concerns or conditions are if we are not going to teach in person.

To back up a minute: in Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes or one of his other novels, one character is  talking about the "smoking may be hazardous to your health" warnings on cigarette packs.

One of his friends comes in and says it ought to be more blunt: "Smoking will kill you f**** dead."

My "concerns," in a nutshell?

"Covid can kill you f**** dead."

Friday, June 12, 2020

Departmental divides?

Like faculty at most universities, we've gotten some mixed messages about next fall that for sheer vagueness must have been crafted by McSweeney's:
After careful deliberation, we are pleased to report we can finally announce that we plan to re-open campus this fall. But with limitations. Unless we do not. Depending on guidance, which we have not yet received.
 We've been told that we should prepare to teach online, or in person, or some combination, TBD.

We've also been told that we can opt out of teaching in person. Some universities are apparently requiring doctor's notes (!), but as best I can interpret from the vatic utterances being issued on a regular basis, we don't have to do this.

I'm wondering what will happen to the cohesiveness of departments, though, if some people teach in person and some do not. (Bardiac mentions this in her most recent post.)
  • Obviously the most vulnerable will be contingent faculty. How can we protect them from feeling as though they have to be there?
  • In terms of logistics, will there be enough classrooms that will permit social distancing--and, if so, how will they be allocated, assuming people are going to teach in person? 
  • Also, on a practical level, I'm discovering that I'm just not as loud when I talk with a mask on. How's that going to work in a big room with no microphone?  
 But also important is this:
  • Will there be a departmental divide between the two groups? 
  • Will those who teach in person be considered differently (as more present, more engaged, more concerned for students, more productive) than those who teach online? 
  • Conversely, will those who teach online be seen as protecting students' health?
  • Will that difference extend to how instructors are considered by their students? By their colleagues? Both? 
  • What's going to happen to those little hallway exchanges? Is the group that's able to do that going to bond more effectively than the ones who are teaching from home?