As with all great events of the modern age, when it all started, so did the memes. The reminders that Shakespeare used his plague-induced isolation to write King Lear. And that Isaac Newton spent his own quarantine time creating calculus (I still haven’t forgiven him). The implication was clear: you’re isolated, you’re home, you finally have the time to do that great Something you could do if only you had the time and space. And then there was the one that was less subtle and basically said that if you don’t emerge from this with a new skill, side hustle, or knowledge, it’s not because you lacked time, but discipline.

At first I handled this all pretty well. I figured yeah, I’m home more, I’ll be better about keeping up with housework. I can’t go out anywhere, so I’ll get more work done and read more books. Maybe it won’t be so bad.

I hit a breaking point yesterday morning. Smol Human has this thing where he falls asleep, and then wakes up around 1:30 or 2am bawling and won’t go back to sleep unless I go with him. I’m also still working my normal hours, just at home, and Smol Human is home with me. While I’m fortunate to have a position where I can make this work, it’s just not sustainable in the long run. It all hit me hard after nights of broken sleep and early mornings of being climbed over and nudged and asked to get up over and over again. It hit me after days of feeling overwhelmed by how to be mom in addition to my job.

Even when things were normal I’d try to be more understanding and kinder to myself and say that I couldn’t do it all. IF I can’t do it all even under good circumstances, what makes me think I can do it all under these?

Because even in the midst of this crazy fucked up trauma (yes, this is all very traumatic) the mentality of do more and more and more and if you’re not you’re a lazy failure persists. It persists more because things have shifted. Shakespeare wasn’t balancing writing while his autistic preschooler begged him to go outside, even though it’s pouring out. And Isaac Newton? Not inventing calculus in the middle of a Zoom, while his kid is chasing one cat around the house and the other is horking up a hairball on the rug. Shakespeare’s job was writing plays. Newton’s job was studying math and science. They were doing their jobs during the plague.

The world has changed, and we need to be kind to ourselves as we try to navigate it. At the start I thought I’d read a bit more and be a more efficient editor of my manuscript, or that I’d get more crafting done. I’ve done about the same amount of all of those as I would have done if I wasn’t sheltering at home. Because even when I am done work, and I do have the time, my mind is tired. It’s not necessarily a lack of discipline as I’m just tired. It’s been a wild ride so far, and it gets tiring holding on by a thread. Holding so hard it hurts. Holding so hard that when you get distracted from holding, you snap.

So be kind to yourselves. Be understanding. Be realistic. Stay healthy, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.

You’d Never Know

It’s… strange how much things have slowed down, even while they’re moving frantically. It suddenly seems like there’s time for all the things there weren’t time for before.

While today isn’t warm, it’s a gorgeous, sunny day out. I went for a drive with the Smol Human (just a drive–no stops. He likes just riding and taking it all in). So many people were out walking. Families were doing yard work together. When we got home, there wasn’t pressure to get in and start getting things done to get ready for next week because… well, next week isn’t the usual.

We went for a walk up the street. The sky is so blue it’s almost unreal. You’d never know that we’re expecting six inches of snow tomorrow (yay spring in New England!), or that the plague of the 21st century is sweeping through around us. No confirmed or even suspected cases in my county, let alone my city. We stayed out in the sun for a good hour.

I try to remember the last time I felt this, and I can’t. It’s like there’s permission for people to slow down, to think more, to focus on more than just producing. I see the meme about Shakespeare using the plague to write King Lear, and while certainly there will be more time to devote to hobbies and such, why do we have to produce more, in other ways? Nothing wrong with it if you do–sometimes it takes this enforced time to kickstart a project! But there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it if you don’t want to launch into something like this, either.

There’s a shift in thinking, and my hope is that this shift is permanent. That we don’t go back to the way things were “before”. That we’ve seen the value of art and beauty and music, and in time with loved ones and consciously considering those around us. That we like not hustling every minute of the day, and that this Puritanical holdover that we must be busy, must not be idle, must constantly be something other than just being, can slip away.

I’m definitely coming from a place of privilege with this, and I know there are many struggling. So my hope is that we can help our fellow people. We can get over this concept of struggling as a moral failing, and realize that helping people is just that: helping. I saw another meme that mentioned something along the lines of it took a plague to make humanity more, you know, humane.

Let’s remember this. Let’s not wake up at this time next year back where we started from, where you’d never know that a sweeping pandemic rushed in and forced us to start being human again.

Rule 18: Enjoy the little things

Blog of the Plague Year


When I used to teach Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, I’d include a rousing game of Pandemic (the old version) after we read it. The class would choose a disease type, symptoms, and then sit on the edge of their seats watching for it to take hold in the world. We’d watch the planes stop, watch the ships aimlessly move around due to closed ports, and groan when we didn’t manage to get Madagascar infected.

I didn’t think I’d ever live in Pandemic. I know the disease type; I know the symptoms. And now I watch as it takes hold. I hear news of closing borders (looking at you, US and Canada, and don’t think I forgot how The Handmaid’s Tale started). Orders to shelter in place, to social distance, to close businesses. We just got the remote work order last night.

I’m down to my last two antidepressant pills and it says I need doctor’s authorization to refill it. When we talk about pandemics and plagues and the zombie apocalypse we don’t really consider what it would be like to be off meds. Everyone would be raiding Walgreens for the antibiotics and stuff to treat infections in a zombie-infested world. I’d be digging for the Lexapro.

I’m trying to set up something to work on basics with Smol Human until his Google Classroom is up and running, and to maintain a sense of routine. It’s only day 2 of being off his routine, but I think it’s going to get harder for him (and for us). We’re fortunate to have a village, but he’s still a handful and needs to get out his energy. Today we ran around in circles. He asked me, “Want to run around in circles?” so that’s what we did. We also spent over an hour drawing houses with windows. He kept asking for house numbers that aren’t part of his usuals (ours, his grandparents’, our friends, etc), and I’m wondering if these are the house numbers he sees when the school bus brings him to his special needs program.

I took today as a vacation day, thinking perhaps we’d still be opened, so I’ll start remote work tomorrow. At least my parents will have the Smol Human for a couple days, so that should make it easier for me to come up with a routine and make a space for myself to work at home.

There’s plenty I can do around here; I’m not worried about that! It’s just making myself do it, and balancing Smol Human’s needs. Once I settle into something, I think we’ll be alright. It’s just the beginning. We’re all trying to figure it out.

Since my parents will have him for a couple of nights, husband and I are going to watch Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. He hasn’t seen either. No time like the present to expose him!

So, not very much substance, and a lot of jumbled thoughts again; but when he was researching for Plague Year, Defoe read the letters and accounts of survivors from the 1665 plague that hit London. Those informed him as he saw a potential outbreak looming in the early 1700s. Ideally this won’t last a year. But regardless of how long it lasts, this is history happening, so keeping a record of how we handled it (beyond the memes, of course) is good.

I don’t know that I’ll write this stuff every day, especially as the days begin to blend and the new normal becomes just plain normal. But for now, this is what’s going on. How are you handling things?

Obligatory Plague Post

Ten years ago, zombie fiction was all the rage. Ten years ago, I read World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide, and Day by Day Armageddon with gusto. I taught a whole unit in my English classes on plague stuff: we read excerpts of Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, followed up by the contemporary novel, Day by Day Armageddon, then compared them. We played Pandemic on the big screen, and competed between classes. The Walking Dead became a thing. Zombieland poked fun at the genre.

What a time to be alive.

Or undead.

Over the last few years apocalyptic literature has waned, and dystopian literature seems to be more popular. And then we have right now, in which we’re living in a dystopia, while a pandemic approaches.

In some ways it’s surreal. Right now it’s business as usual at my workplace, but we do a lot remote anyway. Of the four schools in the state’s university system, we’re the only non-residential school, and most of our classes are online. Face to face classes are one night a week.

But today we did get word from our recruitment coordinator that our outreach events for the next two weeks are canceled. We’re being asked to be ready to work remote if necessary. And this afternoon (after doing a two-day outreach event), I got a call that the Smol Human’s school district is canceling for the next two weeks.

Again, quite surreal, and takes me back to the books I used to read and teach. While we have a very limited occurrence of COVID-19 in my area, I think these precautions are to keep things from having the opportunity to become more widespread.

Our area doesn’t have the bodies in the streets, deployed military, and everything-is-a-weapon mentality of the apocalyptic literature, or even of Journal of the Plague Year, but even proactive measures throw into glaring relief the issues that… wait for it… plague our society. As it gets worse, we can’t afford to have people going out. And so many people can’t afford not to.

I went to my local grocery store today, and the last time I saw shelves that bare was when they predicted a nor’easter (we New Englanders and our snow). And it’s true, there really isn’t any TP anywhere. I did plan to do a big shop and meal prep this weekend anyway, as the prepped meals in our chest freezer are starting to dwindle, and I wanted to restock, but at the same time I didn’t want to look like I was feeding into the hysteria. Though… is it really hysteria?

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with any of this, but it just felt right to get some thoughts down. I suppose being cautious and proactive will be the best bet with everything.

How are you faring? How are you preparing? Are we too worried, or not worried enough?