One of the stranger semesters of my teaching life came to an end last week.
I collected twenty-three virtual projects last week. Entered twenty-three virtual grades. Said a virtual goodbye to twenty-three faces on my computer screen.
“Can we all meet for lunch after this is all over?” one of those faces asked. “In the fall?”
I shrugged. “I’d love to. If this is over by then.”
I told the students I missed them. I did. We walked into spring break and never really came back. And I can’t help but to care about students. That’s my fatal flaw as a teacher. I enjoy being with students even when they drive me crazy. I’m sure that any number of teachers feel the same way. The school year came to an abrupt end. Mitigated by Zoom meetings and virtual assignments.
And now the semester is over. Grades are entered. My fingers are crossed that I’m not teaching virtually in the fall. Teaching and learning, for me, is a fundamentally human exchange. An act and an art that is muted by online mediums. But who knows? The Covid Monster doesn’t care what I want. What you want. You can march around with assault rifles. Or cower in your home. The Covid Monster shrugs and does it thing. Replicates inside the living cells of an organism.
What a jerk.
Zoom meetings exhaust me. Staring into a screen. Trying to read the digital features of digital people. I’ve spent upwards of thirty hours a week staring into screens over the last month. Muting and unmuting myself. Fixating on how poofy my hair looks. Doing my best to participate. Trying to keep Facebook closed. Trying to check my email less than four times a minute. Trying to ignore the screaming boys upstairs. The mewling Norwegian Forest Cat that shares my office with me. My legs ache from sitting at my office chair. Lots of folks have it worse. I’m fortunate beyond fortunate. That is true. But it is also true that Zoom meetings exhaust me.
I feel like I should be getting more work done. Writing. I’m at home? Shouldn’t it be easier? Shouldn’t I be more productive?
I go for a run. Shower. I make some coffee. Settle down at my desk. Open some Word documents. Stare at some Word documents. Check my email. Check it again. And again. Finally, I open up Out of the Park Baseball and play one quick game. That game turns into two. And then I’m stumbling into some virtual meeting that feels like a chore. Then I feel guilty that Katie has been keeping up with the boys. So I wander upstairs. Take my sons to the park. Throw the frisbee. Watch them ride scooters. Come home. And then it’s dinner time. And then I’m exhausted and collapse on the couch. Rinse and repeat.
I really thought I’d catch up on some writing projects this last month. But I can’t really seem to focus. My mind feels like it’s drifting. Scattered and chaotic. And I can’t go to a coffee shop to clear my head with more disciplined writing. And my writing happens in the same place where all of my work happens these days. The same screen.
Nothing really to say other than my routine feels sloppy right now. I feel unsatisfied. Pent up. I’m sure many other people do, too. That’s probably why folks are marching on state capitols with assault rifles. Shouting at the virus. Calling it a hoax. The virus has thick skin, I’m afraid.
Me? I’m way too scared of guns to march with them. Anywhere. About anything. Violence? It’s for the birds. But I’m antsy too. So I write some nonsense with my friend Ben or participate in silly improv scenes or feel anxious about not accomplishing more substantial work as I work from home.
I was supposed to be in South Carolina next week. Facilitating an anti-racist workshop with fourth graders. My friend Erin and I got a grant to use improv theatre as a way to talk about race with children. I should have been collecting data to write about and think about this summer. That project, like the rest of my projects, is postponed right now.
Life has been substantially disrupted. And it’s impossible to say when or if things will get back to normal. Covid monster.
I made a joke during a Zoom meetings with some friends last week.
“Anxiety propels me forward!” I told them.
They both told me that the joke was less of a joke and more of a personal axiom. An accurate description of Dr. Samuel Jaye Tanner, PhD.
“You should make that a shirt,” one of them said. I laughed.
I do think anxiety propels me forward. Intellectually. Artistically. The problem? When I don’t have an outlet for my anxiety, it festers. Lingers. Makes me feel scattered and disconnected. And maybe the word isn’t anxiety. Maybe it’s energy. I’ve got lots of it. And I suppose I’m figuring out how to put my energy to work in healthy ways during a quarantine. I’m sure many folks are figuring that out.
The Player in the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead has a great line that comes to mind during this Covid-Pocalypse. Ros and Guil are seething with anxiety. Trying to figure out what to do in an impossible situation. The Player, somewhat facetiously, tells them that uncertainty is the normal state. They are nobody special. Then The Player says this to them:
“Relax. Respond. That’s what people do. You can’t go through life questioning your situation at every turn.”
That line strikes me funny right now. Seems a fitting way to end this rumination about the end a very strange semester.