• Becca Dzombak

corona-tine dispatch 5: once this is all over...

In our house, we are four weeks into working-from-home and social isolation. I was last in our building on March 13, for the last in-person dissertation defense of the department. Only the Ph.D. defendee, her committee, and her immediate officemates were allowed in, since we had spend the week at desks feet apart from each other anyway. At the time, we all felt it surreal, giving a defense to only ten people, all sitting 6+ feet apart. (I think everyone in the room visibly cringed when one committee member coughed.) We had no idea how surreal it was about to get.


I have a routine down, now. It's not as productive as a day in the office or lab, but so be it. I wake up without an alarm most days - partially because the sun and/or my shouty cat wake me up around 8 a.m. anyway, and partially because it doesn't matter - and have coffee with my partner for anywhere from one to ninety minutes. We do the NYT spelling be game and avoid reading the headlines as we scroll down (or I do, anyway). I work in my bright, yellow office for as long as I can stay focused. Some days, that's four hours. Some days it's eight. (I think I've hit eight hours once or twice - but let's be honest, getting eight hours of work done in the office is difficult, too.) I take lunch breaks. I take walks. Once it goes back to being warm, sunny springtime, I'll take a "commute" walk around a few blocks at the start and end of my work day. We get groceries every two weeks. I've been reading more, writing more, thinking more. I've finished rewatching Futurama. We cook, we dance, we go slowly crazy with (not at) each other. I wear real pants every day. Maybe we'll redo the deck.


Social distance biking on empty country roads.


People adjust remarkably quickly, I think, to new and unusual situations. Normally, this might bring up memories of a cross-country move to a city where you don't know anyone, or visiting a country where they don't speak your language, or even traumatic events like the loss of a loved one. The current pandemic is trauma, but on a scale my generation hasn't experienced yet. And yet, how quickly do we begin to adapt? We tweet about grocery runs, we make videos about #quarantinelife, we learn to celebrate when we score rice or flour or beans at the grocery store. We quickly replace our old social lives with the new: virtual happy hours with friends and co-workers, facetime dinners with family, reconnecting with friends from our pasts. People like me, who would normally be quick to self-identify as introverts, are questioning that as we interact with people we normally wouldn't. All of this points to the fact that humans are a social bunch; even if we like to grouse about our co-workers and indulge in alone time under normal circumstances, having our social lives completely wrenched suddenly away throws us for a loop. Especially in a global crisis like coronavirus, when everyone is encouraging everyone to be supportive and connected - I imagine this is what the country felt like during WWII, coming together to work in factories and plant gardens - we turn to our social lives for comfort.


Our responses also point to human resilience, and, I think, a mix of optimism and denial. We adapt and joke quickly as a defense mechanism; without that, we would all quickly sink into irrecoverable despair. And who would make masks and memes then? Too much denial lands you in the "I'll go to the beach for spring break, anyway," camp, but I won't go there. So we avoid the news and learn to make bread and get up to speed on tiktok and avoid the news even harder, because the alternative isn't appealing to anyone.


I have found myself thinking, "Once this is all over...", finishing the statement with longings for simple things. Having friends over for evening drinks as the sun sets, warm deck lights swinging a little in the breeze. Grabbing a coffee together. Stopping in the grocery store on a whim, picking up a last-minute item to round out dinner. Hugging my parents. Not waking up and feeling the calm of sleep being harshly snuffed out by remembering about the world.


"Once this is all over" sounds too much like a statement right out of war novels and post-apocalyptic disaster movies. It sounds tired. It feels wistful more than hopeful. It's still too early to be optimistic; saying, "This will be over soon, then..." rings false. "Once this is all over" weighs heavily on your chest. The 'after' isn't real enough. Not yet.


It's too soon for "once this is all over," because there's no light on the horizon yet. Perhaps a glimmer, as masks and ventilators and PPE are beginning to circulate, and covid recoveries are reported alongside death rates, and we adjust to our new isolated lives. I just hope that once this is all over, we can look back, learn from the mistakes we made, and avoid this scale of catastrophe in the future.


Because hand-in-hand with "once this is all over" is "when will this happen again?"

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About Me

I'm Becca Dzombak, a Ph.D. candidate and science writer at the University of Michigan. I study how Earth's life, atmosphere, and landscapes have changed over billions of years!

 

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