Sustainability depends upon acts of reparation. Property needs to be redistributed. Families are struggling. Digital communication penetrates the life-world with anxiety. Demand a general strike. Or just slog through, do one’s best, whatever that means each day. Behave joyously. Memes have me wanting to re-watch The Big Lebowski. But when is there time? Hop in, do what is necessary, step out. Thus I scramble through the work-life balance complexities of remote teaching and parenting amid shelter-in-place. (While also trying to buy a home.) Seated, arms up across the top of a bench like a slouched cowboy, the protagonist eyes the room. Tips an imaginary hat in greeting. “In Dorn’s allegorical scheme,” writes Marjorie Perloff in her introduction to Ed Dorn’s poem Gunslinger, “characters exist, not as particular individuals but as functions of a larger mechanism, relational properties that take on meaning only in their interaction” (viii).
The Friday of the craziest week of my teaching career greets me with news of allowances, reason for happiness, a promotion. Friends and family email, text, and call to congratulate me, even as the local bakery announces temporary suspension of operations following state-wide “shelter in place” orders, community in a kind of lockdown of unspecified duration. Time to try one’s hand at a loaf of Pain au Levain.
In phone calls a mere hour apart from one another, I receive word that my department has voted to hire me into a better, more permanent position, and that my grandfather, my only remaining grandparent, has tested positive for the virus. He has a large, loving family — children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren — all of whom would like to be with him. It’s a lot to take in and process, these waters of March.
What does it mean to convert teaching into assembly of discussion forums plus creation and delivery of content within these forums within a piece of university-administered “classroom management” software? When do we get back to in-person gatherings of students and teachers? How under such circumstances does one practice a pedagogy of hope? Do we become video friends? Do we record little lectures, each of us seated before the camera-eye atop our laptops and smart phones, prisoners in a new kind of panopticon prison? But who knows? With a little practice, we can launch a jailbreak, a prison strike, a riot. Unless perhaps we use this as a moment to build ourselves up. I suppose it’s fitting that I started my career as a teacher, back all those years ago during training, with a short videotaped lecture on the panopticon. For that is what they’ve built around us with the camera atop the devices from which we work, now that our teaching is to be done online. These conditions have been imposed by fiat down a command chain, regional accrediting bodies the ones cracking the whip. Time to get to it.
Aloha, fellow islands in the net. This social distancing thing is weird, y’all. Takes some getting used to — even as that is exactly what we don’t want to happen. We go on walks amid flowers and vegetables. What will it be like when we move to a new home on the far edge of the city? We will walk amid our garden. The song on the soundtrack is a sad one, Link Wray’s “Ice People.” But then ESG comes to the rescue with their song “Come Away,” and all is better.
What is happening in this moment? Birds are singing, springtime is upon us. Families connect, celebrate, commiserate in a state of preparedness through phone, FaceTime, text messages, mail and email. We go for walks, we spend time outdoors, work made remote amid break. It’s a strange situation, certainly. We’re entering a period of change, transformation, adjustment. A perfect time, in other words, to practice hope and exercise care. Somehow in this moment of polarity, solidarity means keep your distance. The question is: for how long? Until when? How does crisis become revolution?
We’ve begun purchase on a home. A Craftsman bungalow fixer-upper on a decent-size piece of land. And I’ve drafted my job talk amid the disruptions of a pandemic. Big changes ahead, but also “continuity of instruction.” Despite the pandemic, I remain oriented toward hope. “Social distancing” is necessary for the time being, but no need to be excessive about it. We’ll grill, we’ll cook, we’ll garden, we’ll grow. By these means, we build the Oikos of our dreams.
Epidemiology, scares, containment narratives. This is what the authoritarian state uses against those who would live joyfully upon the earth. But even under rough trades, we can care for each other. Exercise compassion. Release birds from cages, shake rattles. Maintain a vibrant village. Keep each other well-housed and well-fed. Meanwhile news everywhere of schools migrating online, education conducted remotely for the remainder of the semester. These are unprecedented times.