Shelter in place. Do not go out. Do NOT leave your home. If you do, shower, change, sanitize, wipe your feet with bleach upon return. Six feet is not enough. You are too close. Too close. TOO CLOSE! Voices scream from social media. Irate. Vulnerable. These kids on the beaches. These boomers inviting friends over. Don’t they get it?
I have to get away from this. These voices. Take a vacation. Get some work done.
I move up to my attic office and sigh. Look out at the cherry tree in my neighbors’ yard. Sit with a glass of hot immune booster– lemonade seasoned with turmeric and ginger and berbere. I was supposed to be at the Comparative and International Education conference. This week in Miami was so long ago. I think about the virtual conference: today, an online braiding and sphering project. I have always wished I could braid. Braids are so pretty. The whole, divided, clustered then rejoined in a pattern, systematic, layered. Thesis drafts. I read three pages. Gaze out the window and breathe in the sound of the birds.
On the second floor a fight breaks out. “Why did you do that? Huh? Are you trying to break it?” The yelling pierces my soul because it sounds like me at my worst. My heart beat rattles my chest. Do I intervene or let them work it out? I try to read some more. I read a paragraph. Then, a wail. Real pain. Anguish. My child is being hurt! By my other child. I limp down the stairs, fast as I can, given my recently broken knee cap. “Why did you do that? Huh? Are you trying to break him?”
Back at my computer. Faster. I tell myself. Faster. Read faster. You will never get through these thesis drafts. I get through five pages. Pretty good. Take a break.
I begin reading an article about overcrowded hospitals. The triaging of life and death. I am distracted by another article describing the awful filling, suffocating feeling of the lungs in those who have COVID-19. I touch my own tight chest and straighten up, roll my shoulders back. This is just tension, right? Too much time hunched over a computer? Right? RIGHT? I take a deep breath, take my pulse, hold my breath for twenty seconds. Just to be sure.
Faster. READ faster. I order myself. I get through seven pages.
Check email. A student doesn’t know how to do online learning, thinks he will fail. Another is cheerful and wants to apply to graduate school and study for the GREs with all her new free time. Another is telling me her thesis draft will be in next week. Another is telling me she thinks all this time has made her thesis really good and she wants to publish it. Fine, fine, fine, good, fine, fine. I write hastily. Let’s talk. Let’s all talk. I send out zoom invites. I send a few to the wrong people, mixing up invitees and times.
Back to the thesis draft. I read half a page and realize I have to pee. While in the bathroom my dog stares at me.
I walk the dog and think about how lucky we are. The air is cool and the sun is warm. There is a light breeze. Everything is fuzzy with early spring. My neighbor calls out. We chat from opposite sides of the street energetically complaining about the president and speculating about whether we have already had the disease. I walk on, daydream about things I want to write one day. Think vaguely about our book manuscript, abandoned, and wonder if we will hear from publishers soon or if the editors are also stuck in this strange looping time. Time that folds back and intertwines with itself, sits still and moves in this odd twisty way.
I sit down with my thesis drafts again, read a paragraph. Shit. I am supposed to be in class right now. I log in. Little squares on the zoom call. Windows into worlds. We meet pets and discuss the benefits of pit bulls and parakeets. Someone is stranded on a Caribbean Island. Someone else in the mountains. There is snow. I notice bedrooms and wonder who is still wearing their pajamas. I am. I get distracted thinking about friends who have chosen, or perhaps been chosen, to shelter in place in the Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone and elsewhere. I think about other friends who are trying to decide if it is safe in New York City or if they should leave the country. I think about friends in refugee camps.
Wait, my students are still talking. They are sharing adventures from grocery stores. I ask what this tells us about supply chains? Growth? Incentives? Capitalism as we know it? One of them says: If capitalism is so great, why did it only take two weeks to unravel the whole thing? I muse, are we developing or under-developing?
To do lists are abandoned, but there is work to do. Lesson planning. Reading for class. Reading student work. The linearity of it assaults me. Why am I teaching them to think this way? To write this way? I remember many years ago, when I was doing youth development work, someone I was interviewing for a position said: we are all at-risk. I thought he was a little crazy. We hired him anyway. He also asked the question: Are we developing or under-developing?
I hear a child laugh. Footsteps scurrying on the stairs. He brings me the legos he has built. A hug. I am proud of you. Joy. I gaze outside. It has been a beautiful day, the essence of spring. Should I go for a walk? What time is it? What day is it? I respond to an email from a student who asks for an extension on an assignment that is due in four weeks. Oh, she says, I got my months confused. I vaguely think about the book I am supposed to be writing which is about time in refugee camps, time under conditions of extreme containment.
And here I am. Locked, with all of you, in the endless present.
That stretchy present, a writhing, unruly and slow strand braiding itself into linear time. Time ordered, organized, by ideas of progress, which now seem to have been merely a suggestion, intertwines with emergency, urgency, fear-time, pressing on us. Now. Now. Now. And then there is the future. We know it is coming with a certainty like the pit in our bellies. We know it will happen. Sometime. Some. Time.