I’m typically a pretty productive person. I normally work a full-time job and multiple part-time jobs, take Ph.D. classes, and balance marriage and motherhood, not always with ease, but with enough effectiveness and efficiency that, most of the time, I feel pretty empowered and accomplished. I don’t say this to brag, though I am working on being more straightforward about my strengths (bye-bye, impostor syndrome!), but because I typically base a lot of my self-worth on this hustle, on how much I can get done in a day (which, I realize, may be a problem in and of itself). Normally, productivity is my power pose.
But in this pandemic, my psyche is pooped, people. My productivity is prostrating. I wake each day exhausted from taking on each day, from what I know is a very privileged position -- good health, enough food, a job that so far seems secure and stable in its remoteness, a loving family to spend time with, and the ability to stretch my legs at least once a day with a brief run, secure in the physical distancing somewhat natural to the streets of semi-rural Maine. My guilt over feeling ground down in the midst of all this goodness only exacerbates my exhaustion. And even though there are people urging me to be gentle with myself, I am still my own worst critic.
I suppose I should be proud that even with my energy at half-mast, I’m still teaching and advising, still showing up for my students to offer my trademark care-first classrooms. Still helping faculty figure out new pedagogical profiles as they settle into their roles as online educators (emergency remote or otherwise). I even started volunteering to do virtual reference checks for Passion for Pets Rescue (donations welcome!), to get outside myself, to give back to others, to tap into a part of me that isn’t productivity.
But instead of feeling proud, I’m feeling gut-punched. I don’t know what to do when I’m not at 100 percent. My focus, pre-pandemic, was pretty powerful (I could tune out, and zero in, like a pro!). My in-this-moment mind moves so much more slowly. It is mostly minute to minute over here; I get a few brief bits of meaning making before it all turns to muck. The things that used to bring me the most personal pleasure -- writing, reading, watching -- are now the things I have the hardest time holding on to. I’m not sure how to negotiate this entirely new self, in this entirely new world. How to navigate as another Niya. Humor helps.
I’m not the only one feeling this way. There are lots of us on Twitter talking about operating at #goodenough, or even starting a #getbyclub. In fact, I’ve been tempted to create my first Twitter chat, using one of these hashtags. Thinking about ways to build community around the conditions of this circumstance gives me comfort. But I haven’t yet been able to move beyond pondering, to put something into action. I am still operating largely at aspirational, at best.
One thing I’ve found a strange solace in (or maybe not so strange) is video games. Outside of work, they seem to be the only thing I can singularly focus on for long periods of time. Maybe it’s because they provide me an opportunity to bond with my husband and daughters, problem solve outside the pandemic, and exert a little control within more certain and structured stakes. In her beautifully written essay “Can’t Stand Another Minute of This Reality?” Sarah Rose Cavanagh eloquently describes her own escape into video games (and other mediums) as slipping into a new reality -- shifting away from a time-bound, future-forward, productivity-pulling existence. Similar slips have been sustaining me, too.
And yet, like Sarah, it is through this initial escape, and my slow emergence from it, that I find myself a little more empowered, a little more willing to engage some semblance of self, even as I enter at a new point of existence. Perhaps this post is me practicing a new power pose, defining different terms for productivity, in the midst of this pandemic. I share it with you in the hopes that it might encourage you to be more patient with yourselves than I have been with myself, to promote your well being as #goodenough and to share your own shifts and strengths, in solidarity.
Niya Bond is an online educator, F2F academic adviser and Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at the University of Maine, studying online teaching and learning. Her writing has recently been featured at “University of Venus,” Faculty Focus and Women in Higher Education.