Pandemic Chronicles #6: The new normal is fluid and still surreal

Looking out the screen door.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, author Joan Didion opens her widely-acclaimed memoir about loss and grief with these words:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

I find myself coming back to those words in trying to comprehend the hard and sudden changes in our lives compelled by this pandemic.

And I’m one of the lucky ones. As a professor, I have a good job with a steady paycheck that I can do largely from home. Of course, that’s for now. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last and what its extended impact will be on higher education. I’m expecting, maybe sooner than later, pay cuts or required furloughs in response to what I anticipate will be reduced enrollments until the public health situation works itself out.

For many of us, various uncertainties mean that the new normal may well be a very fluid one, where life changes fast and in the instant on multiple occasions. A lot of these changes are communicated by way of social media and the internet: Emails, texts, public pronouncements, breaking news, and so forth. You log on and sometimes hold your breath.

***

In the meantime, I’ve been diligent about following public health guidelines and directives. On Saturday, I did go into my university office for the first time since mid-March, in order to gather materials that I need to do my work during the next month or two. Donning mask and gloves, it was pretty surreal entering the nearly empty subway cars. Thankfully almost everyone else was covered as well.

I must say that as I sorted through papers, printed out documents, and the like, it felt somewhat normal to be back in the office. But even as I did my work, I couldn’t quite shake the reality that things have changed dramatically and that I probably wouldn’t make the trip back for at least another month or so.

As for downtown Boston, it was pretty empty. I did manage to score some toilet paper, spray disinfectant, and other sundries at one of the drugstores, which made it a useful trip in multiple ways.

***

Above, I share a view looking out from my screen door. I opted to use a shot that focuses on the screen lattices rather than on the outdoors, because it says something about the way we’re all living these days.

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