• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Cabin Fever

Lockdown fatigue sets in.

March 4, 2021

Next week, it will have been a year since the college went remote and we went into lockdown.

The initial adjustment period involved balancing a sense of the uncanny -- is this really happening? -- with the very practical need to find a good spot in the house from which to Zoom. In the early days, it was especially tricky because TW was home, too, and she also had to participate in Zoom calls. Overlapping audio meant finding spots on opposite sides (or different floors) of the house. She mostly goes to the office now, and TG does her remote high school in her room with the door closed, so I have relative run of the place.

The early days also involved the rapid and unforgiving discovery of Zoom fatigue. I’ve adapted, somewhat, though I still sometimes request switching to phone calls when the meetings are one on one and we aren’t sharing a document. At least then I can get up and stretch.

Over time, we’ve all adapted in our various ways. TW has started going back to the office most days, which she prefers. A brand of Zoom etiquette has developed, of which my favorite part is the hand-wave at the end of each meeting. There’s something endearingly silly about a dozen or so educated adults waving bye-bye.

But now the cabin fever is setting in.

Part of it, I think, is the combination of seasonal change and longer days. Every spring brings a certain amount of cabin fever even in normal times, just because we’ve been stuck indoors for several months. In the Before Times, the first gloriously warm and sunny day of the spring featured longer-than-usual walks between buildings on campus, or finding excuses to go check in on someone several buildings away. I say that without shame or apology.

But the social distancing definitely plays into it, too.

Last month I went to campus for the raising of the Pan-African flag for Black History Month. There were probably 20 people there, about half of whom were students. Just seeing people in three dimensions again was refreshing, even though everyone was masked. Despite the bracing cold, just being around students again was restorative.

I’m very aware of being lucky to have a job that can be done mostly from home, and to have a home that lends itself relatively well. The internet connection here is pretty good most of the time, and other than a multiday power outage last summer, it has been comfortable. Not everybody has had the option of riding out the pandemic in a good situation.

But even granting that, I miss people. And places. Restaurants and theaters and bookstores and interesting streets and stadiums and people I don’t already know. Normally the return of warmer weather, and sunlight that lasts after getting home from work, brings with it the chance to rejoin the world of people. This year, not yet.

The feeling of being in the home stretch somehow makes it worse. If President Biden is correct and every adult American will be vaccinated by the end of May, then we may be only a few months away from a return to something close to normal.

The last lap is always the hardest.

The paradox, of course, is that jumping the gun will just make the lockdown last longer. Knowing that is helpful, rationally, but somehow it also makes the waiting harder. Folks who believed in Santa as kids will recognize the feeling as Christmas Eve jumpiness.

Just a few more months. Just a few more months …


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