I am living my best life.
I sleep in until 8:00. In the early days of the shutdown, my beloved Starbucks abandoned me. Only two little independent coffee shops were open through March and early April. One is just around the corner and serves cornbeef hash made from scratch. The other is a mile away with a fairly generic menu. So every morning I go on a two mile jaunt for coffee to avoid the thirty pounds I’d gain eating that cornbeef hash every day. The walk gives me plenty of time to chat with the dozens of others out on the sidewalk, something I rarely have the opportunity to do when commuting every day. The rest of the morning in and around coffee is Twitter, the news, water the garden, maybe make a trip to the hardware or grocery store. Nothing intense, just little tasks. At 10:30 I start my first “office hours” session, working on zoom calls until 2, occasionally scheduling a later session for working students.
I don’t offer “classes” per se. I just assign work, tell students to show up a couple times a week in Zoom sessions, and let them choose when. Timeshifting isn’t usually an opportunity granted teachers, much less the ability to work from home. While I love the flexibility of office hours, remote classes narrow the entire act of teaching down to one mode. Explanation has always been my strong suit, but there’s so much more to teaching. I miss the variety. I miss my job.
Ninety percent of my students were regular participants for the first month, eighty percfent the next, but those numbers will fall. Like most district and union shutdown grading agreements, ours is a spectacularly stupid policy. 1) Grades are credit/no credit only. 2) Students who were passing on the day the schools shut down are guaranteed a credit grade. In short, students with a D or higher in mid-march don’t have to do a thing and the district is legally committed to give them a passing grade. It’s amazing we have any students at all. On the other hand, the participation and learning I see my students achieving leaves my original expectations in the dust. The bureaucrats are doing a great deal wrong. My students are doing a great deal right.
After my last zoom call finishes up, once Starbucks finally reopened, I take another mile and a half trek for an iced espresso. Sometimes the late afternoon is spent in my garden, which is the entire backyard: tomatoes, corn, beans, squash, watermelon, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, basil. Weeds are a problem this year; I’m mulching with my stepdad in a couple days.
I am running an “after school” club activity that I dreamed up to give interested students some experience planning and managing a donation project. This takes a couple hours of every day, either creating products or buying supplies. Add to that the few hours a week spent driving around to student homes, delivering materials to assemble various products that we’re donating. Mondays or Wednesdays I usually head into school just to see the place, talk to my tech guy about various issues, collect any supplies I need.
My favorite restaurant has as much respect for pandemic laws as I do, and allows regulars to dine in. I stop in at least once a week, often bringing a friend or colleague, or maybe my brother. A few other restaurants are open on the same basis: the barbecue joint up the street, the pho shop I frequent, and the Vietnamese sandwich shop. The liquor store beer bar I love is still open, but Bart left the state to teach while living with his girlfriend, so I don’t go as often as I used to.
Almost every day, I walk to one of three stores for dinner groceries. On Friday and Saturdays, my nephew hangs out with us; we cook a big dinner and have movie night. I try to keep up on grading while watching TV.
My maid service comes every two weeks. Every six weeks, Lyle the stylist, as he insists on being called, comes by and does hair–mine, my brother’s, anyone else who hears he’s coming. I’m starting up acupuncture pretty soon. As is probably clear, I follow only those pandemic laws that would put a business or employer in jeopardy if they were caught allowing the behavior. I’m fairly scrupulous at school and extremely cautious in any student interactions. Most of the time, I blissfully abstain from virtuous pandemic theatrics.
My life is great. Like, Tony Tiger grrrrreat. The luxury of time, meaningful occupations both professional and vocational.
Another piece of good fortune: no one in my family is financially at risk. Parents are retired. My sister and her husband are wealthy enough to be semi-retired, although my sister still sells diet products for another five figures a month. My grocery manager brother is busy and respected in the community, regularly working with city managers, nursing home staff, and so on. My other brother spent a couple weeks unemployed but is back at work. My son is in sales, but the shutdown hit when he was at the top of a cycle and he took unemployment too. He’s enjoyed family time at home with his wife and two kids, feeling very lucky for the opportunity, and just went back to work. If all that good fortune isn’t cause enough for celebration, my renters are employed.
So my life, which I already found deeply satisfying, has improved in almost every way by being forced to work from home–the only exception being the work itself.
But my easy living barely compensates for the fury. I am aghast at the utter waste and devastation caused by this needless national shutdown. I’m furious at the media which openly advocates for policies rather than trying to inform the public. Disgusted at governors who caved to the media. Incoherently, snarlingly hostile to people who see nothing wrong in placing their (or others) peace of mind above the well-being of children and young adults. I try not to rant about it and in real life, anyway, I succeed. Most of the time.
At least the people in my community share my disdain, whether they say so or not. Surveys say my neighbors support the shutdown laws. Observations say otherwise. The parking lots are full. Stores are crowded. Lines are long. Apart from rush hour, traffic is pretty heavy. Mask wearing is barely what’s required by law. No one’s huddling in their houses. It’s a deep deep blue region. People will starve before they give Trump the satisfaction of a protest. But random, frequent conversations reveal I’m not alone in my annoyance and anger.
It’s Twitter and the media, the outside world, that flummoxes me with the constant reminder of the mindsets that got us into this mess. The other day, mild-mannered Damon Linker said, without apparent shame, that schools should be closed as long as need be to ensure that children don’t infect vulnerable adults in their family. When I asked how long he was planning on locking kids down, preventing them from living every day life, he asked angrily who would console his children if they infected him and his wife both of whom are in high-risk categories. Now, I don’t want Damon Linker’s kids to feel guilty, but wouldn’t it be much less catastrophic if he just kept them home? But no, he feels that since many others have the same vulnerability, schools should stay closed. That’s a whole level of entitlement I don’t get. I do not take the thousands of deaths lightly. Neither do the many other people who find this lockdown unnecessary.
I remind myself frequently of my tremendous luck and fruitful, happy life in lockdown, to keep my mood as balanced as possible.
The disconnect between my comfortable circumstances and my anger at the decisions that forced this life upon me can be disconcerting. Were I younger, I’d probably spend all my time fuming and none just enjoying the freedom. But I was self-employed for twenty years, and not a day goes by that I don’t feel a shiver of the economic devastation the pandemic would have brought down on me had it hit had the pandemic hit during one of my earlier careers. So I enjoy the sun, the walking, the neighbors, the coffee, the garden, the time spent with students. I try not to obsess about events–now, see, don’t get the wrong idea. I obsess all the time, but mostly about my own life. The world I leave for others to worry about, usually.
Anyway. While reviewing this piece about my terrific lockdown life, I suddenly asked myself if I could do anything to feel even more productive and happy. And the answer came back instantly:
I could write more.