Saturday, June 27, 2020

A hundred days of quarantine

We've passed 100 days of self-isolation but, in the tradition of this blog, I missed it exactly and will just post some half-finished thoughts here to expurgate them from my mind. Welcome to approximately the 112th day of solitude. And unlike grad school, there's no end in sight.

I miss people. It turns out that many of my pastimes actually required people, or at least the passing proximity of others, and are now extremely ill-advised and mostly unavailable. Board games are so great in-person as a way to escape into a shared brain-space with friends; at a distance, board games (and pretty much everything else) take a lot more effort and yield a lot less feeling of shared camaraderie. Ditto rock climbing, but extremely more so. And forget singing along during road trips --- the travel, the singing, the enclosed space, all of it is now verboten to the pandemic-pragmatic.

I miss the full-bandwidth promise of a real-time in-person conversation, one where no one drops out, no one freezes, talking over each other can be moderated by subtle physical and social cues, and my headphones do not leave a grooved imprint of my glasses on my skull.

I miss the fantasy I once held, maybe a decade ago in the midst of my extremely academic studies, that I might be living in a golden age of rationality and scientifically-founded decision-making. I miss the feeling that I might be effective or a positive influence on others, and I'm struggling to see how to "pivot" (eugh) my skills, which are almost 100% cultivated for in-person activities, to be effective and useful in a permanent pandemic world. I miss feeling like I can be effective at all, beyond donating my money and privilege to try to ameliorate the many ravaging horrors of our age. From a distance, of course.

Positively: I've cleaned my house, and it's staying quite clean. (I'm the only one who can enjoy this or pass judgment on inadequately-dusted ledges, anyway.) All houseplants are flourishing. I'm doing yardwork. I'm 2 full weeks ahead on my workout plan. I'm working on a lot of solitary at-home projects that would otherwise have languished. I'm contemplating what I want to do with the rest of my life to try to have a positive impact; I'm answering emails, letters, and postcards, and pumping the snail-mail system full of words, feelings, and time-delayed connections. I've learned to bake cheese in pastry crust. I've reworked my budget to enable more donations. I'm watching performances from artists I would never get to see in-person, as everyone has been forcibly shoved online, so they are effectively closer and more available to me than previously.

I'm waking every morning to shake my fists at the Gods of Bandwidth and propitiate the Lesser Deities of Lag and Latency.

I wonder...
... when was my last hug? I remember one pretty late, but was that truly my last hug?
... when was my last handshake? Will that be the final handshake of my life?
... when was the last time I ate in a restaurant? I don't remember. Maybe that will never happen again.
... when will I next see my family? Paradoxically it will probably not be enjoyable to see them because of the apprehension that the very act of meeting will impose a danger on everyone involved.

I think I could last a long time, a psychologically inadvisable time, in socially distant isolation. Comparing it with the risk of transmitting disease, contributing to transmitting disease, or myself becoming sick, and remaining isolated looks like a moral imperative. Whether by my example or by the incidental impact of self-selecting out of the situations where transmission occurs, this seems like my only acceptable mode of conduct. YMMV.

Don't worry. I'm not a hermit. I have an extremely healthy correspondence; I am an active letter-writer. And of course, now as always, I am a being that consists 80% of Simply Being Online.

Plus ├ža change.


This post's theme word is empanoply (v. tr.), "to enclose in complete armor." We are advised to empanoply ourselves at home, and I have empanoplied this cheese in flaky pastry.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Quote board

I usually write notable quotes on the whiteboard in my office, which over the course of the semester accumulates a border of these snippets of wit and strangeness. This semester we transferred to a remote-everything model in which people still say strange things. So the metaphorical whiteboard has still been accumulating quotes; I copied down all the actual whiteboard quotes before abandoning my office for plague-avoidance reasons.

D: "This head's got a lot of other s*** in it."
L: "It really doesn't."

L: "Where those ninjas at"

A: "Life is an endless series of we trying to entangle things"

Z: "That sentence is surprisingly technically correct."

Z: "It is oftentimes the case that if people in my class don't learn what I'm teaching, they learn a valuable lesson instead."

D: "Dude, our network can't support five baboons!"

M: "I promise I'm not evil, but I do blame you for the development of my evil thinking skill!"

K, on our first Zoom call: "I just think that it's a lot easier to get things done if we're in-person." DUH

Z: "It's not an instructional cooking show. It's a show of me, cooking."

D: "saber-tooth tigers or gtfo"

I: "Damn you, linguistic prescriptivism. I cannot be free."

Y: ""It's never been written down.  It was just kind of something I was told.": every long-standing Swarthmore College policy"

I: "This is the co-recognizer sleight-of-hand where you make the looping go into the co-recognizing part." (I'm charmed by the idea of co-recognizable sleight-of-hand, where it sometimes fails and that's all you care about, not the successes! It's a magican's trick that is broken!)

L: "Sounds like a corner store in Mordor."

Q: "Quarantine is the perfect time to take up falconry."

O: "I had a lot of thoughts, but then I came up with a proof and the thoughts went away."

Q: "I started eating it as a power move"

S1: "Imagine a room that is a perfect cube..."
S2: "I can't imagine anything! I've been inside too long!"

I: "the dangers of emerging from my small, hegemonic area of dominion"

K: “I picture you as a birdlike person with twigs for bones”

Q: "my main photo editor is Microsoft Word... graphic design is a passion"

S: "I think we're a department of pretty reasonable people. Externally."
Q: "Internally, all bets are off."

I: "You don't have to share my feelings about math, but... nothing you've done is wrong. Yet."
L: "That's what we love to hear."
C: "It's been years since I saw this many numbers."

L: "This is so much worse than proving that something IS big O of something."

O: "I'll just be a Piazza fool."

K: "I accept that your answer is unconventionally correct."
I: "That's the best kind! [maniacal laughter]"

Z: "I had mistakenly thought that in our whole system, the section with the most history would have their... act together. [But instead they have] The most trash fire!"

S: "We should not be planning to kill ourselves to this extent."

Z: "I should've been thinking..."
J: "We should get that on a shirt for you."
Z: "Cruel but justified."
Q "... and that's on the back."

I: "I obviously shouldn't be in charge of the world's supply of moon rocks."

It's been a long and strange semester, conducted half in isolation and yet with much more explicit acknowledgments of the Interactions That Matter. Thanks everyone for sticking with it this long, and for chatting with me even though I am badly-surreptitiously taking notes and writing down your quotes as we go.


This post's theme word is kythe (v tr), "to make known; to manifest; to show; to declare." I kythe that the spring 2020 semester is over!