Thank goodness, nobody I am working with has asked or expected me to maintain my productivity at the level it was before All Of This started. Though from what I’m hearing from others, there’s some folks expressing that this social distancing is a great moment to write a crap ton of papers and grants. Yeah no, it’s not working out like that. For those who are positioned to do so, I wish you well.
At a distance, I can see how it might seem how my identities and responsibilities and privileges converge to allow me to get a lot of stuff done right now. I’m not parenting any young children at home, my spouse and I are working from home and continue to earn normal paychecks. If anything, our day to day lives have just gotten a lot simpler. And my teaching load this semester has been reassigned to running our office of undergraduate research, and that actually has just gotten more simple because of what’s going on right now. But, still, I’m not managing to write those manuscripts and grants that have been waiting for far too long.
Why am I not publishing like a demon? Well, have you noticed, that there’s a pandemic out there? In addition, have you noticed, that people all around us are suffering because of the pandemic? This event has amplified the inequities underlying our social fabric. The people getting hit the hardest are those working full time but still living below the poverty line, who don’t have secure food and housing, and who don’t have reliable internet access at home – and these folks are most likely to put themselves and their communities at risk because it’s likely that their source of income means leaving the house and interacting with other people. The student population that I’m working with is being impacted tremendously, and I think it’s perfectly fine and normal to not leverage this opportunity to increase my scientific productivity. I do wish I could use this as a chance to bring in more grant funds to bring more opportunities to students, and hopefully my mental health will get to a place when I can do this. But I’m not quite there.
So, how have I been spending time that otherwise would be spent commuting, socializing, traveling, and such? We’ve been sheltering in place at home since before Pi day (3/14). I made a peach pie that day, and while I’m the cook at home, I’m not usually a baker, so that says something. I’ve also started a sourdough starter, which I’ve been vague thinking about for the past score of years or so, but never gotten around to. I’ve also been cooking new things and new ways, in part to husband groceries so that I need to replenish less frequently. And I got out of the habit of running during a holiday cold snap, and now that I’m back into it, I’m running more regularly and longer than I typically do, which is quite nice. My department had a virtual happy hour one night last week, and it was nice to see and hear about everybody.
I’ve been meeting my base responsibilities just fine, though when it comes to completing new scholarship, I’m just, well, stalled. I feel like I’m kind of stuck in a limbo between reading the Washington Post, and a novel, and cooking, and spending time with family, and exercise, and sleeping. And I’ve spent more time taking care of myself than I have in a long time. Of late, I’ve been feeling (as Bilbo Baggins once said) “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” And that feeling has subsided as I’ve been able to spend more time with myself. I’m currently working less and getting less done, but it’s helping me take care of myself, which feels more sustainable in the long run.
Economists have explained how shutting things down during the pandemic is actually more healthy for the economy in the long term than acting as if things are normal and allowing more people to get sick and die. Perhaps on an individual level, with respect to our own mental health, this might be a useful analogy? That we can’t pretend that things are normal in the midst of a pandemic, and we need to focus on taking care of ourselves and one another? Sure, I might get around to writing more papers and grants at some point in the coming months instead of going to give a seminar or going on vacation, but that’s not my priority at the moment, and that’s okay.