Sunday, September 20, 2020

My six months

 We all count it from different days.  My shelter in place really started on Thursday, March 19.  I'd seen it coming - I saw the footage of Wuhan hospitals in late January and it was clear to me it was going to be "the big one" - but that's not the same as being able to envisage the transformations that would ensue.

I hosted a small book party in my apartment on the evening of March 5 - we had the windows open and the fan blowing from the window-unit AC, uneasily bumped elbows and so forth.  Given that community spread was already taking place in my Columbia community (people who'd returned from Italy) we were lucky, I think, that it didn't become a small super-spreader event.

Classes were suspended on the 9th, and Columbia asked employees not to undertake non-essential international travel, but I was hungry to see Brent (it was essential for me!) and I got on a plane to Cayman on the 11th as planned for ten days to overlap with the week-long spring break.  Each day the situation seemed more grave; we went to Fidel Murphy's for early happy hour on Friday as always, and the bar was deserted except for a handful of panicky servers looking at the collapse of St. Patrick's Day prospects and the likelihood that many of them would have to leave the island if shutdowns continued on the planned trajectory.

I wasn't supposed to fly home until the 21st, but on the 17th the Cayman government announced that the border would close on the 22nd; my flight was canceled and I hastened to get on the next flight back to NYC.  I wouldn't have gone to Cayman if it would have been an absolute disaster to get stuck there, but it is not desirable to be where you don't have immigration status and access to your real work materials in a time of pandemic.  Got a business class seat on Cayman Airways and was home late on the 18th.  As I left the apartment the next morning to lay in a few essentials (I'd been stockpiling cat food and toilet paper already before I went to Cayman), I felt something like a membrane stretch across my door, I had to press my way through it, and I saw that it was a very good thing that I run five times a week outside, a non-negotiable commitment for me, or else I would be looking at a serious exacerbation of mild agoraphobia.

I said goodbye to Brent at the airport on March 18.  I thought then that I'd probably be able to get back to Cayman for the summer months, but the borders have remained closed.  There's a soft opening for Oct. 1, but it's still only repatriation flights and you have to book through a government agency: I'm not sure whether or not I would get permission, though at some point I need to try.  We're still hoping to see each other in December, but there are too many variables to make more than a good guess about how and where that will happen.

In almost every respect I have been extremely fortunate through all this.  I have a secure job and can easily work from home.  I like being at home and am not itching to travel, unless I could suddenly be teleported to Brent's condo.  I have two funny cats who are excellent companions!  I've had harder summers.  And yet....

The start of the new school year has brought a sense of movement to my life that was sorely lacking.  Depression has been hovering, but it's mostly lifted (leaving me with acute anxiety, inevitably, but I can work with that). 

It is going to be a meaningful and rewarding year of work, I think, within just about manageable bounds.  I made a choice last winter that now looks prescient: once I realized I was going to be running my pilot Work Inside and Outside the University seminar and also chairing the Arts and Sciences Policy and Planning Committee, I decided to use up a semester of banked course release (I am operating in an extraordinarily privileged realm of academic life) so that I could teach 1-1 rather than 2-2 for 2020-21.  (The work seminar carries through for the whole year, and I was particularly worried about having in effect 3 courses as well as PPC chairing for the spring semester.)

 And this morning I printed out my book manuscript, the version I finished in January and haven't touched since.  I hired a developmental editor in July to give me a detailed edit letter, and she provided me with truly excellent comments and insights.  I had genuinely no wherewithal for it over the summer, all my energy was going towards getting from day to day (running and yoga were good, and so was the writing accountability group I was running every day, but mostly I just huddled in bed doomscrolling), and that didn't contribute to my sense of well-being. I always have a book going!  It may not be realistic to think I'll be able to work on it consistently this semester, but I am at least going to see whether it might be possible to have about forty-five minutes a day for it, five days a week....