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Tomorrow is a Friday, the Friday when my original plane ticket to come home from the UK had me scheduled to fly. I still have the “fly home” reminder on my digital calendar. And my calendar hanging in my kitchen recently looked like this.
On Monday, March 23rd, I wrote the following, trying to capture something about what was happening:
“I am writing this on a Monday, it is one week since I left my hotel in London and made my way to Heathrow, to catch the last direct flight to my home in North Carolina. I had spent the weekend trying to keep up with the news about coronavirus, and the national and international responses to the pandemic. I went from “maybe it’s safer to wait until April 10th, to use my current ticket to go back home once things are more calm” to “if I don’t leave before midnight on March 16th I might not get to fly back to the US for months.” So, I cried, changed my ticket, and went home. I was luckier than many, in having only been in England since early March, I was allowed to fly into my home airport rather than into one of the 13 airports now designated for processing of any international arrivals. I was lucky, in that I got to go home.
I was in the UK to do work, to run workshops and have meetings with people I had been doing remote work with for the previous several months. I have, for the last few years, been working as a consultant with universities, and education and library organizations. I do a great deal of my work online, because I work across locations, and with people who are not here in my home city. I have conversations, I write collaboratively, I conduct interviews, I joke and I play in various online places. I am deeply familiar and comfortable with working remotely, at a distance, online.
But my work is also designed at some point to have a face to face component. We work online after the in-person work to write a report, or we work online before the in-person work to prepare a workshop, generate interview questions, decide what the panel discussion needs to address. I had been preparing a full month’s worth of work in March 2020–six workshops for two different organizations, a panel discussion, one site visit, and an interview-based project. When the UCU strikes were announced, I made sure to schedule working days that would not violate picket lines. By the end of my first week of work, it was clear that I should also have been paying attention to the pandemic, and that it was going to change everyone’s plans, not just mine.
So I spent some time working on remote alternatives to some of the workshops, and offering to cancel or postpone others. I offered to train people to deliver what I had prepared, as if the barrier was simply going to be my presence or absence, not the wholesale absence of people from their workplaces, because they were sheltering at home from the pandemic.
In the end, all of the work was cancelled (let us say postponed, let us be hopeful there will be things to do again) because if I did not leave I would not get home. And the fact is, while I think the work I was trying to do would have been useful, it does not take precedence over people trying to weather the pandemic, manage the panic of these times, take care of their loved ones, and hold on to hope for the future. I don’t know what is going to happen next. It’s only been a week since my personal part of the world fell apart. It’s too early to have expectations. I do have hopes, and fears, as usual.
The kind of work I do is led by the organizations who bring me in–I was working on strategic plans, research into teaching and learning practices, I was helping teach people how to do research of their own to learn more about academic practices in their own organizations. I hope that there will be chances to facilitate that kind of work again, and I know that there will be a need to figure out what teaching, learning, and research needs to look like after this is all over. There was a great deal in our previous “normal” that was unhealthy and unsustainable.”
Over the last few years I have been so lucky, so privileged, and built a world of work for myself where I could travel internationally, speak to people online, and do work across a wide distribution of territory. That could all fundamentally change. There will be fundamental changes. And they all pale in comparison to the disaster that is my country’s political situation, the global crisis made far worse by political choices, racism, and inequality, and the people who are dying now because of it.
How are things? I am staying home, because I can. I am listening to a lot of podcasts. I am watching escapist TV with my people at home. I am cooking, and going for (solitary) walks on our local greenway. I am writing my representatives in Congress, and to libraries that are still open and putting their workers in danger, and staying connected to far-flung people with the internet. I am crying. I am angry. I am scared. I am holding fragile plans for the future.
How are you?