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  • Writer's pictureBecca Dzombak

corona-tine dispatch 1

Friendly greetings from my bunker!

Kidding. Greetings from my home office-slash-guest room, complete with two (2) cats, a somewhat tenuous internet connection, and an outdated second monitor. After our department shut down temporarily the week before this and switched to remote teaching starting this past Monday, I've spent many hours in this yellow, thankfully sunny room - dedicated half to developing remote teaching materials and half to logistical and mentoring conference calls. (Twitch? Who do you think I am, a cool gen z kid? BlueJeans is where we're at.)

A laptop sits on a desk in a yellow room.

The situation is dire. As of last night, we are officially out of chocolate and the seltzer is running dangerously low. I think we're out of beer, but there's a dusty bottle of sake sitting on our bar cart from when my partner's mom visited last... summer? It's probably still good. Dusty equals aged, right? Sure, we have flour and tofu and toilet paper, but I need my snacking chocolate. My breakfast chocolate. My dessert chocolate. My baking chocolate. I'm not sure how long I'll last.

The past week has been crazy, but not in the ways I expected. No students showed up to my online office hours or lab session, but half the class already turned in the lab, so I guess ignoring the painful sound of my own voice to make extra explanation videos was worth it. All the conference calls have gone pretty well - even the casual Thursday night Google meet with my siblings and our 13 cousins - but I've definitely ordered an ethernet cable so I look and sound less like whatever the internet equivalent of a croaking swamp hag is. Based on my time tracker, I only ended up working about 32 hours, but by 5:30 on Friday afternoon, I was as mentally exhausted as a full week of 10-hour lab days typically feels. Maybe more.

Which is fine. I feel like every day, my #AcademicTwitter is totally split in two, divided (unequally) between folks who are teaching from home, have kids, and are just trying to help their students and peers adjust and respond to a literal pandemic, and those who fall into the "Finally, some time to write!" category. (Which could very well exacerbate gendered differences in how academics - and others who are working from home with kids - bounce back once this has passed.) Just this morning, I saw a couple threads talking about how requests to review submissions have gone way up. My dudes, I have a paper theoretically due on March 31. That is ten days from now. I can say with 99% certainty, it ain't happening. The only research-related stuff I got done this past week was focused on making sure the undergrads I work with, who are working as an hourly paid job or trying to finish a senior thesis in a hurry, can keep to their timelines. Which is fine. Sometimes it's fine to help others before you help yourself. (Not planes.) Especially if you just don't have the mental capacity to analyze data or write a discussion, or if it's just hard to feel connected to your research and recognize its importance when so much "real" stuff is going on. On a normal day? Sure, phosphorus in soils is important and interesting. But when it feels like the world is burning and the people in charge of fixing it are negligent and incompetent, it's hard to sit down and write about why phosphorus is important.

So at least half of academics on twitter, probably more, fall under the first category. Maintaining perspective and being supportive. That's good, that's all we can ask for, really. (That and fast internet.) But beyond not worrying about research as we're all working from home and adapting to #socialdistancing, there's a perhaps equally-stressful trend of talking about how we're all going to use this time at home to Do Things. Whether it's home improvement or cooking elaborate dishes or learning to knit beer coozies or doing 1000 burpees with a dog and toddler on your back or inventing calculus (STOP SHARING THAT), the internets are filled with posts about essentially using this time as self-improvement.

That can be just as toxic. If you want to use this time to bake more or pick yoga back up or embroider your figures, that's great. But I'm sure I'm not the only one who, sitting at home on a Saturday afternoon, feels pressure to Do Things. And in theory, I want to. I'd like to flex my creative muscles and draw something or write a short story or finally hang up the blinds in the basement. I should be reading - novels, The Atlantic, the news. I should be out exercising. I should be, should be, should be.

And that's exhausting, too.

We should be staying in as much as we can. We should be helping our neighbors. We should be remotely checking in with friends and family. We should be taking care of ourselves.

That looks very different for different people. Today, I slept in. Today, I'm baking; it's a day-long process that I do, or try to do, every weekend because I enjoy it, and because then I get to consume half a loaf of bread straight from the oven. Today, I'm writing this dispatch to organize my thoughts and reassure myself that watching four hours of futurama is fine. Today, I'm going for a walk to get some fresh air.

Today, I am being gentle on myself. You should be too.

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