During the most difficult times in my life, I have noticed that one way people show empathy is by sharing something dreadful that they, or someone close to them, has experienced. There’s a camaraderie in suffering, which can be both comforting and suffocating.
Back in 2012, I had an ectopic pregnancy, after several years of secondary infertility. There were complications during the surgery to remove my right fallopian tube which resulted in chronic pain, and further surgeries to implant a neurostimulator. When people heard this, a common response was to tell me stories of mishaps during surgery or traumatic pregnancy loss. This has happened during other painful times in my life, too close to the bone to recount here. At times, I felt like a repository for bad news.
I say this to contextualise the lightness of this post at a time of collective trauma on a large scale: nearly 160,000 deaths in the United States alone, and decimated communities around the world (I recommend the BBC World Service podcast The Documentary for international coverage of the pandemic). Closer to home, we have over 12 thousand cases in Victoria, Australia (more than half active), and a hard lockdown that exacerbates vulnerability and disadvantage.
The things I miss are small, but perhaps my list may resonate with your experiences of life during a pandemic.
Walking the campus
Last week, with the Idea of the University reading group, I read Frances Kelly’s haunting piece “Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus.” Fran takes an “attentive walk” through a soon-to-be decommisioned university campus. There is a palpable sense of mourning, but Fran’s attention to the details of place are inspiring:
Although I had walked the same paths before, this time I walked with intention and attention, taking photographs and making notes of objects and places and the effects of processes of time—stairs that once lead to a building now demolished; an enormous pile of tree clippings;flowering bulbs; a view toward a dormant volcano …
Walking is a time for and mode of thinking for me, which is why psychogeography resonates as research methodology. A limitation is that it does take time, which can be in short supply for the contemporary researcher, or the busy parent, carer or student juggling multiple responsibilities.‘I like walking because it is slow, and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour’, writes Solnit. ‘If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness’ (Solnit2014, 10). Walking with deliberate attention as methodology reduces speed further–requiring pauses to observe, note and reflect on phenomena.
At the moment, we are working on campus part-time, but most of my meetings are online. I miss walking between meetings, noticing the change of season as spring approaches. The birds seem wilder with fewer people around.
Bumping into people
With all of my interactions scheduled, and mostly mediated through a screen, I miss impromptu embodied conversations. Having moved into a new role, I rarely see people I caught up with regularly six months ago. I miss you!
Interrupting and being interrupted
I mentioned my love of interruptions in a previous post. Polite turn-taking is far more important during Zoom. I miss hearing people talking over the top of one another, or finishing each other’s sentences without awkward pauses. I am reminded of this quote from Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts:
Sometimes, when I’m teaching, when I interject a comment without anyone calling on me, without caring that I just spoke a moment before, or when I interrupt someone to redirect the conversation away from an eddy I personally find fruitless, I feel high on the knowledge that I can talk as much as I want to, as quickly as I want to, in any direction that I want to, without anyone overtly rolling her eyes at me or suggesting I go to speech therapy. I’m not saying this is good pedagogy. I am saying that its pleasures are deep.
There is a certain sameness to our days now. I am sure this is felt more intensely by those unable to leave their homes. I miss everyday novelty. I am attempting to satisfy my cravings by trying new condiments, planning virtual escape room games with colleagues and family, and picking up books from the local street library. This morning’s haul included Vivian Pham’s The Coconut Children and Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
What are you missing?
ETA I wrote this post then watched the horrific news from Beirut. My heart is with you, and the Lebanese community outside Beirut.