The fourth in our coronacrisis series.
On Monday, my day began at 7am, giving feedback on a PhD student’s research proposal and ended some fifteen hours later, when I gave up trying to contact a relative who is locked down alone and I finally managed to calm the insistent panic that they were not ok. They were ok, they just forgot that we had set up a call. Lost track of time.
I learned about the three seasons of the Ancient Egyptian year and the key features of their agricultural production (Year 7 Human Society and Its Environment) and how to design a fair and reliable experiment (Year 7 Science). I reminded my kid to log in to his Google classroom on the hour every hour and perform his virtual attendance, because his school has been very clear that this is the only thing that they care about during these extraordinary times and it takes less emotional energy to play by their rules than it does to point out all of the ways in which their rules surely don’t apply at this time. To this time.
I hosted the first weekly virtual coffee morning for colleagues in my Department and listened to PhD students tell us about how hard it is juggling childcare, space to work, and in many cases completely redesigning their project because it’s clear that the fieldwork they have planned for this year is likely no longer possible. I suggested that it was important to give these students space to grieve their lost projects, their other selves.
I held a meeting during which I pretended that I could imagine a day in the near future on which I would be able to sit down and put words together, organise my thoughts and the thoughts of my collaborators, though it actually felt impossible at the time.
I listened to my husband supervise the afternoon’s lessons, and was brought to stillness by the recognition of how lucky we are, to have each other and my salary and secure accommodation and high speed internet.
I reviewed an article. I marinaded chicken. I met friends for wine and complained for an hour. I read – and wrote – emails about making up for lost time, or rescheduling this or that event for a later time, and they hurt my heart because I can’t imagine another time right now. I am crushed by the thought of the next hour. I cannot begin to imagine charting the territories of next week.
At this time, I am always impossibly bridging a past (imperfect, beloved) life with futures unknown. I am full of feelings about the present moment. I am exhausted. I am grieving. I am enraged and frustrated and miserable and proud and I have no way of managing or even beginning to comprehend the feelings that fill me. My therapist reminds me that I don’t have to cope with my feelings, I can simply tolerate them until the urgency dissipates and I can turn my attention outward again. But it is a lot, to ask a human to tolerate this feeling of fullness, when even the feeling of fullness fills me and I begin, just a little, to feel panic.
I walk. I talk with friends. I watch trash television shows downloaded onto my iPad, listening to trite and clunky dialogue through the noise-cancelling headphones that mark this forty minutes out as my time. I turn down the panic to a background hum: a hollowness in the stomach, a sigh, a clenching of the jaw, the quickness of my anger response when something confronts me. I catch myself, just in time. In time. Sometimes. But sometimes not. Some times.
My reaction to social media posts about using this time productively is visceral. It tightens the back of my throat. I send a meme that says ‘It’s ok not to be at your most productive in a global fucking pandemic’ to one of my WhatsApp groups. I am whistling in the dark. I write threads on Twitter and share articles about how these are not normal times. But I cannot suspend this time; I am suspended in this time, bridging.
We are all differently torn and contorted by this time and its pressure. I thought I knew time pressure but this is the pressure of an unknown time. I stay with time and I try to anchor myself here. But this time is not a time I can apprehend. My efforts to know it are fruitless; I try to grasp this time and my thoughts slide off and around its enormity. This time is glassy, impossible, massive. I cannot find a way in to this time but I cannot cope with living across this time, I cannot suspend it. I cannot (can I?) sustain this bridging.
And yet: I live across this time. I woke yesterday, and I will (I trust) wake tomorrow. I will eat, love, rage, cry, in time. I will sustain. I will be suspended. Perhaps this time is not to be used, or understood. Perhaps this is not the time to rationalise or ‘manage’ feelings. Perhaps those are impulses borne of a different time. Perhaps within the expanding shell of this time, there is just chaos, and splinters of hope. Perhaps I will feel my way to acceptance of disorder and be able to nurture the pinpricks of contentment. In time.