2020 Quarantine Report, Or, My Futile Attempts to Maintain Focus

Well this is a shit-show, isn't it?

I don't have any eloquence for what has been occurring all over the world for the past month, but it's bizarre how the past two weeks have changed our everyday routines. And by changed I mean upended. Smashed. Eradicated.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself -- the cause is horrific, naturally, but the actual change, up until this point, for me, has been strangely comforting. When there's a terrifying physical threat to humanity at large, I've found solace in sheltering-in-place with my cubs (or perhaps more apt, piglets, because goddamn my poor house is a wreck, and it was a wreck to begin with). We've had our moments of strain, naturally -- you can't have five people in each other's company 24-14 and be happy and shiny for every hour of the quarantine. But we've tried to make the best of it. Up until now, existence has been kind of dreamlike: not idealistic, like a goal you hope to attain, but fuzzy, like something remembered after sleep. Vague. Ill-defined.

Now I'm standing (really, sitting, in bed with a dog curled at my feet) on the precipice of a big change at the college, and in the lives of my children -- moving to fully-online distance learning. Tomorrow my children begin their distance education programs as shaped by our school district. And at Stuffolk, we resume our semester after an extended spring recess. I honestly have little idea of what to expect. I've never taught an online class of 30 students, let alone four online classes at once -- I never, ever, EVER, would have desired to teach fully online -- and I know that most of my students have never even considered taking a distance education course before. Using Blackboard as a repository for PowerPoint presentations and homework assignments and handouts is very different from using it to conduct classroom interaction, and it takes a different skill set and a wholly different level of diligence. 

Diligence is, of course, something in high demand right now. We're supposed to be diligent about hand-washing and social distancing, about monitoring our consumption of goods and our collective United Statesian propensity to hoard when faced with scarcity. And for those of us with children, we're supposed to be diligent about keeping them not just safe and healthy, but educated -- homeschooling as the new way of life, in perpetuity, or at least until the threat of contagion has decreased.

Diligence requires such an immense amount of ego -- described by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, which is a text I use in one of my humanities classes at the college. His description of ego depletion and its role in our cognitive abilities resonated with me, and not just because I was looking for a reason, an excuse, why I couldn't maintain all of the good habits I wanted to start and sustain. But Kahneman, building on the research of his fellow psychologists, reveals that we only have *so much*. There are limits to our mental capacity for all kinds of activity. Only so much energy within each of us for creativity, logic, exercise, empathy, compassion.

So when faced with the prospect of teaching online -- my full-time job -- and expecting that I should also be facilitating, daily, my three children's continued education (being diligent, making sure they log online themselves to access the district's distance learning activities, that they're actually retaining and processing and synthesizing the information found there) -- which is also, arguably, a full-time job with overtime, considering that there are three of them -- I feel "ego-depleted" before I've even begun.

I might venture that this is not the most optimal way to begin a "return" to teaching, or interacting with the world outside our little house, even if it's virtual interaction.
Mood. (Photo taken after a day of ineffectual panic.)

And then I read about, and think about, all of our medical professionals -- techs, PAs, LPNs, RNs, MDs, DOs -- and the horrors they are facing -- so much suffering, so much death -- and how much they are doing right now, how much they are required to do -- not just from a sense of responsibility to their career or an obligation to duty, but rather from a place of compassion, from a call to their humanity -- and that they are doing this work beyond the point of ego-depletion, and I tell myself to shut the fuck up.

Shut down the neuroses. Just hunker down, and push through.

And it's going to be a push. I don't anticipate the next two months going well AT ALL in terms of my classes, in terms of my own kids' education, and I wish I could apologize sincerely to them, my students and children alike, but all I can do is kind of virtually shrug, and literally shrug, and say, I'd like to do my best, but I don't know if I have a best to give, at this point.


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