Like my colleagues here in Mondoville, I’ve gotten the ball rolling on the transition to online classes for the time being. By month’s end, we should have a better idea of whether we’re going to finish the term this way (SPOILER: Yeah, probably), but I feel pretty comfortable with how we can make this work.
One of the things I’ve suggested to my freshpeeps is that they keep a “plague diary,” on the grounds that one of these days (if there is a “one of these days,” ha ha….) their kids or grands may want to know what this was like. But it seems wrong for me to encourage that without making some effort in that direction myself. So here we go…
I was telling my friend William (a college friend and math prof back in Kentucky, who also has an interesting music blog) that I’m feeling weirdly Zen about things at present. There is really very little I can do about things. I do those things, and I try to be decent to other people (which I try to do anyway), and then I let the things I can’t do anything about happen, because well, they will anyway. I don’t know if that’s serenity or fatalism.
Of course, I’m not engaging the public very much these days. I go to my office most days — I’m frequently the lone inhabitant of the classroom building, or I share the three floors with our custodian — and sometimes I’ll get some coffee at a drive-thru, maintaining distance while doing a little for the local businesses and the folks who work there. I’ve been to the grocery a couple of times this week, including this afternoon/early evening. Yes, some sections are cleared out — meat, eggs, dairy, paper goods — but Mrs. M and I are doing OK. Not having our preferred brand of bread isn’t the same as doing without, is it?
Likewise, up in Terpville, the Spawn and Main Squeeze seem to be perking along. They’re pretty much homebodies anyway, so this isn’t a terrible hardship for them — as long as the internet holds up.
As I mentioned last week, though, the energy around here is different. As Mrs. M noted a little while ago, it feels like a summer before the summer, and for those of us who live by the rhythms of the academic year, it’s an odd feeling.
My personal rhythms are changing a bit as well. During an ordinary semester, I get up at six in the morning, and am in my office by seven or a quarter after. I try to go to bed around 9:30 at night, but that isn’t always viable, and sometimes I just lie awake as I’m thinking about the days just passed or those ahead. Now, however, I find myself up til around midnight, and I get up around 8 or 9. So I’m a couple of hours out of phase already, on a schedule much more like the one I kept when I was writing my dissertation, with a preschooler in the apartment. I suspect the change will be even more pronounced by fall, as my sabbatical begins. That’s fine by me — my office is a comfortable place to write, and the further out of sync with the rest of the world I am, the less likely I am to be distracted by it.
I also wonder a little how my experience of the loss of my parents and the subsequent four years before my brother’s trial affects my current. . . well, affect. The initial devastation, and the slow grind of the years after toward the New Normal brought me their own lessons about pain and about patience. I pray that I never have to have another experience of that intensity, and I pray that you never have to, either. But it has given me a perspective, anyway. I survived that; I now know that it is survivable. And I know that things will remain survivable until they no longer are, but again, that’s outside my control, just as so much of that earlier experience was.
Occasionally friends will ask me “But isn’t it frustrating?” or “Doesn’t it upset you?” when something untoward happens at work or in life. But what I’ve told them is that I now look at things on a scale of “zero to having my family killed,” and on that scale, the vast majority of things cluster at the scale’s left end.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not the stoic philosopher Johnson incorporates into Rasselas. I still feel passions, joy, and dismay. I still worry about individuals in my orbit and in the larger spheres of community. But I also know that there is much beyond my control, and recognizing that offers a kind of comfort.
And for some reason, all this reminds of a late poem from Thomas Hardy.
He Never Expected Much
Well, World, you have kept faith with me,
Kept faith with me;
Upon the whole you have proved to be
Much as you said you were.
Since as a child I used to lie
Upon the leaze and watch the sky,
Never, I own, expected I
That life would all be fair.
‘Twas then you said, and since have said,
Times since have said,
In that mysterious voice you shed
From clouds and hills around:
“Many have loved me desperately,
Many with smooth serenity,
While some have shown contempt of me
Till they dropped underground.
“I do not promise overmuch,
Just neutral-tinted haps and such,”
You said to minds like mine.
Wise warning for your credit’s sake!
Which I for one failed not to take,
And hence could stem such strain and ache
As each year might assign.
And with that, I’ll wrap up this installment with a bit of music. Here’s a piece from Frank Zappa and the Mothers’ Uncle Meat album.
See you soon!