Post Colonial Lit Assignment, Part 1

Postcolonial Literature Class Coronavirus Assignment, part 1: Due Monday 3/30, midnight

All of us have been deeply impacted by the spread of Covid-19, often in ways we are only just beginning to see. For this class, a portion of your grade was the Personal History Project — in previous years, I asked you to research and consider how a major historical event affected you or your family, and then give a presentation on that material to the class.

Relevant events in previous classes might have included the 2009 stock market crash, 9/11, World War II, the Irish potato famine, the Depression, the colonial indenture system, etc. Perhaps your relatives moved countries in order to find work, for example?

This semester, I’m amending the assignment to focus on Covid-19. For today, your task is simple:

– either for yourself, a family member, or someone who you choose to interview (friend, acquaintance, or stranger are all fine), think about how the spread of coronavirus has affected them so far — has it affected their work, their physical or mental health, their care responsibilities, their schooling, their career aspirations, their relationships, etc. and so on?

– write up a short response (choosing whatever aspects you want to focus on) and hand it in to me electronically by the end of the day on Monday; bullet points are fine, or paragraphs — it’s entirely up to you. (Alternately, you can record a brief audio or video response to send to me; if you choose that, 2-3 minutes is fine, although you’re also welcome to go longer)

– please note on the response whether it’s okay to share this publicly; this won’t affect your grade one way or another, but if it’s okay to share with others, I may end up compiling those responses and sharing on social media. Just include at the end a note: “ok to share” or “prefer not to share”. If it’s “ok to share,” note “with my name” or “anonymously”. Thanks!

We’ll use this piece as the basis for the next stage in our project. It will be graded on a simple pass / no-pass basis — if you hand it in, that’s sufficient to get full credit for it.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This can be tough material. If you are finding Covid-19 writing emotionally difficult to work with, and would prefer to stick to the original assignment of a more distant historical event, I’m fine with that. Just let me know, please.

Stay safe, stay home, be well. More soon.

*****

Side note: I teach at a state school (UIC), with a very mixed economic / etc. student population. Some students are bored and wanting more challenging work right now, some were struggling to keep their heads above water even before all this happened, so I tried to design this for flexibility and compassion. This is for a 100-level class.

The Wolf at Our Door

It isn’t reasonable to expect people to become convinced and internalize that we’re entered a serious crisis situation in just a few days. I know that.

Even if they do get to that point, many of us are overwhelmed with work and care responsibilities, mental health concerns, fear for ourselves and our loved ones. There’s a lot of moving parts and shifting information, with all the authorities seemingly caught just as flat-footed as the rest of us, scrambling, and our capitalist society is breathing economic panic at us, the wolf always at our door. I get that.

And of course, the data projections are terrifying, even for me, and I am normally the most chill of humans. If we do nothing, we’re looking at more than a million deaths in just the U.S. A million. The problem is so big, so scary, and honestly, the scale of it feels so out of the blue still, despite the fact that China has been fighting this for months. Many folks are going to have a very hard time even READING about the truth of it; they’ll want to look away. That is only human.

I would love to give people time to process, give our society time to adapt.

And yet the ticking clock means that we can’t actually do that. In the last week I’ve become convinced (and I WISH I’d realized it much faster, I’m so angry at myself for how long it took me to understand the truth of what I was reading), that this is an all hands on deck situation. Right now.

In the next 7-10 days, those of us Americans who aren’t in healthcare have to do EVERYTHING we can to support those who are working the problem directly. If that means our kids watch screens for a few weeks, if it means our students get essentially placeholder e-mails for a few weeks (keep up with the reading, we’ll be back soon with a revised course plan, assuming we actually manage to finish out the semester), that is OKAY.

We’re trying to drag a projected million-plus deaths this year in America down to a few thousand. We might even be able to do it, if we have the commitment, the political and personal will.

We need to reset our priorities immediately, collectively. We have to start thinking seriously about what is nonessential and can be put to the side for a few weeks. There’ll be time to catch up on the kids’ homework soon. Right now, there is so much work to do, that has to be done FAST. Work, work, work — rest enough to keep your strength and spirits up, because you can’t help if you collapse, read something funny, laugh for a moment — then work some more.

And I know some of you are reading this and maybe getting pretty angry at me, because you have DONE everything you’ve been asked to do and more, you would LOVE to be able to help, and you’re incredibly frustrated that you can’t figure out how to help. I was arguing with my husband about this, just barely not yelling at him, and that’s pretty much what he just barely managed not to yell at me in response. I get that.

Here’s the thing. I spread the word a little. I did some community work. But only with a little bit of my attention, my focus.

I think I kept waiting for a higher-up, a community leader, a medical person, to step forward and say, “Okay, here’s the plan, here’s the task we need you to do.” But they’re all scrambling too. And of course, they ARE working the problem — a lot of people are working really hard.

But some of them, a lot of them, are working the WRONG problem. They’re focused on their own domain, trusting that someone else is handling the larger picture. And that’s just not enough right now. We all need to think and look wider. If you were in government, if you were in charge, what would you want to see happening?

It makes me want to weep, seeing how many faculty have earnestly spent the last two weeks trying to become experts in engaging online education, so they can help their students achieve the course objectives set in calculus and composition pedgagogy two months ago. And that’s totally understandable, but it’s wrong. It’s just wrong.

Professors, take those skills and shift them outward, away from just your classes. You and I, we need to be public intellectuals right now.

And everyone, whatever your education and work background, if you have the skills — community-building skills, tech skills, organizational skills, communication skills, if you are the voice in your community that people listen to — the world needs you. It needs you right now.

Look around. Find the people near you who are working the social distancing & healthcare ramp-up problems hard, working them well — there ARE a lot of them, and many of them have been running flat out for weeks, so busy and anxious and exhausted that they don’t even have the capacity to reach out and say, “Help.”

Ask them what they need, ask them how you can help. I’m afraid if no one near you (online or off) is doing anything really useful to combat the wildfire spread of coronavirus, then maybe you’re going to have to be the one to organize something, to rally the troops. (If you’re in a state that hasn’t closed the schools yet, you know what your next task to work on is. Indiana just closed their schools. Another step. More lives saved. Onwards.)

What else? Form a mutual aid group. Figure out which legislators to lobby for disaster relief funds so people can afford to stay home from their jobs without starving. Find out what the hospitals and healthcare workers need most urgently, that you can help supply. (Childcare funds and an organization that will provide safe childcare while maintaining social distancing? Is that something you can work on?)

MOST OF ALL, do whatever you can to support social distancing this week. From now (3/19) until the end of March. Spread the word effectively, emphatically, compassionately. Build a social media campaign. Design memes and write stories (short ones). Record tik-toks. If you know people with broader social reach than you (if you know celebrities!), rope them in. If you know people with money, businesses in a position to donate funds, talk to them too.

Help make social distancing economically and practically and legally feasible for as many people as possible.

There are going to be many societal problems to work in coming months, as we see a seismic shift in how we live our lives, but THIS is the urgent one for the next 7-10 days.

(And then rest a little, and work it some more, because we’re going to explain this to people and do it over and over again, probably for 12-18 months. If that surprises you, please read the article linked at the end.)

I’m going to try to put together a more concrete task list and post it by tomorrow morning. It will fall broadly into three categories:

– communication around social distancing
– economic support for social distancing practices
– support for healthcare workers

As far as I can see, those are the three failure points that need serious and sustained reinforcement. I’ll link to the task list here once I have it ready.

But right now, please. If you have capacity without endangering your health (physical or mental) — look around. See who’s supporting social distancing and healthcare effectively. Help them.

And read this: https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/coronavirus-projections-us/

Update 3/20: I’ve started my brainstorming structure list here; I’d appreciate your thoughts: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10160666035969616&set=a.10150140183694616&type=3

#communityinatimeofpandemic
#teachinginatimeofpandemic

(for visibility, folks — PLEASE like / comment / share)

Keeping home, and keeping house

I told Kevin last night, around 12:30 a.m., when were both still scrolling through news updates in bed (yes, terrible sleep hygiene, and Anand almost missed the bus this morning as a result, we have to stop doing that) that I was going to do ALL the backlogged home projects now, and the house was going to be SO CLEAN.

He said maybe not so clean if the kids were home too and we were spending some time homeschooling. I told him that their first lessons would be in keeping a house clean…

(Now that we’re both going to be teaching remotely, we’re seriously thinking about just keeping them home, even if the schools aren’t closed. Yet. If the parents who can easily do that do it, it will help, I think.)

#teachinginatimeofpandemic

Simple Things You Can Do in a Time of Pandemic

(I’m going to repost this periodically, I think, and update it as I think of things.)

*****

Simple Things You Can Do in a Time of Pandemic
(a list for those feeling ineffectual, a work-in-progress)

1. WASH YOUR HANDS. Wash them frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Teach your children and other household members to do the same. Model it for others in public places, helping to make it a social norm. However this goes, that can only be helpful.

2. GO OUTSIDE. Go out into the fresh air if you can. Staying cooped up in your home can be a recipe for stress and breathing stale air doesn’t help. If you can’t go out, try opening a window or turning on a fan (which can disperse water droplets, lowering their concentration of virus). If you can go outside, and if you can garden, now is an excellent time; it’s good for your health in all sorts of ways, and your mental state too.

3. ISOLATE. Practice social distancing as possible. (I cancelled all my optional meetings, and am switching over as much as I can to Zoom.) Even if you’re not likely to get very sick, you can easily carry the disease to others.

4. RESTRUCTURE SOCIALIZING. Think about how isolation may be affecting you; if it’s making your mental state worse, consider options for socializing. Long phone calls with a friend? Asynchronous video game in between your work tasks? (I love Terraforming Mars for that.) Set up a computer screen with Zoom for you and a few friends or workmates or relatives, and just leave it running in the background as you go about the day, so you can chat on occasion as desired, ask a question, etc? Humans are pack animals, for the most part. Left alone, many of us tend to fret.

5. LAY IN REASONABLE STAPLES. If you can afford it, add a few staples to your groceries, aiming for two weeks’ worth of supplies on hand (if you have the space). Don’t hoard; others may need it far more urgently. Especially don’t hoard masks; medical personnel need them. If you’re not already doing grocery delivery, and it’s available to you, try it — one person doing food shopping for seven families and dropping groceries on porches is much less likely to spread contagion than those seven (or seventy) people going to the grocery store.

6. STAY INFORMED, BUT NOT TOO MUCH. Stay informed, but if social media is starting to stress you out, walk away. Turn off Facebook for a while, close the computer. The flood of information can be compelling, but it can also cause a lot of anxiety, and remember, as in any crisis, that a good percentage of early info will be wrong. Unless you have a responsibility to stay on the cutting edge of the info, you may be better served by waiting a day or two, letting others verify and process it, and then summarize the parts you actually need to know.

7. RECONSIDER TRAVEL. Think about whether you really need to take that upcoming trip, whether it’d be worse to be quarantined in that area, and be prepared to cancel travel at need. (For me, I have to go through a bit of a mental process of frustration, grief, and acceptance before I’m ready to do that, so might as well start early.)

8. CHECK IN. Elderly relatives, neighbors, co-workers, siblings, old friends — there are a lot of people feeling a lot of stress right now, and many may be feeling very isolated and even frightened. If you can check in with them — by phone, in person, online, whatever works — it can help. (It might help you feel better too.)

9. EAT HEALTHY. In stressful times, many of us turn to comfort food, but some of those options will just make you and your body feel worse if you do too much of it. (Did I binge salt-and-vinegar chips and ice cream last night? Yes I did.) To the extent that finances and time allow, try to eat as healthily as you can during a crisis (and feed others the same way). It may also help you feel a little more in control, since you’ll be proactively doing something to help the situation.

*****

#teachinginatimeofpandemic

Going remote, and meeting online

For the record, I suspect a TON of faculty are probably feeling a lot of shock, inadequacy, tech fear, and performance anxiety right now, along with all the rest of the coronavirus stress of the general populace.

I know basically what I need to do to teach a couple remote classes, and I’ve been bizarrely avoidant about it all day. What if I say something dumb on a video and some student puts it on the internet and everyone laughs at me and realizes I’ve just been faking it in the classroom for the last twenty years? Etc. and so on. Imposter syndrome at full force.

I’ll get over it, and so will the other faculty, but students, parents, if you can be a little patient with us through this transition, it’d be appreciated. Most of us aren’t going to be GOOD at remote instruction right away, but we’ll do our best for the kids.

*****

The students in my postcolonial lit. class typically do an presentation where they talk about a historical national or international event and how it impacted themselves or their families; it’s a significant part of their grade for the course. I think we’re turning it into a presentation (which they can just hand into me, or put up for public consumption if they like, as PowerPoint, podcast, or video), where they do the same thing with Covid-19.

*****

UIC is going remote; we just got the word. It’s a little odd, because at least right now, they’re also telling students on campus that they can stay there and participate from there. Maybe because too many of our students don’t have good tech access at home?

But faculty will be teaching remotely for the rest of the semester [edit to note — the letter didn’t actually say rest of the semester, but I think that’s what it will be], and it’s a commuter campus, so many students live and work off-campus already.

Good to have clear word, finally. Glad they did the right thing.

*****

My writing workshop was supposed to have its monthly meet-up at my house tonight; we just decided (30 minutes before the meeting) to cancel, and reschedule to do it via Zoom.

How can volunteers be of any use?

I have a question for nurses and doctors, or maybe for hospital administrators. Let’s postulate that some places (like Milan right now) will essentially be closed for business, and many people working remotely may find themselves with some free time and the desire to help. (Not commuting in to teach will certainly open up a few hours for me, and while initially, I’m scrambling to adapt my syllabus to remote learning, if this goes on for six months, or a year, or longer…)

When ICUs are overcrowded and running out of beds, will volunteers willing to be trained to help be of any use at all? (I have one friend who travels regularly to disaster zones to do relief work.)

Or will the chokepoint be more of a technical one — not an actual bed, I assume, which could be set up in other buildings at great need, but the equipment needed to monitor it? (Will fundraising help in that case, or would the equipment simply take too long to manufacture?)

How can the average person help you? I guess is what I’m asking.

(You may not know yet, but in case you do. I like to be prepared.)

#teachinginatimeofpandemic

Simple Things You Can Do in a Time of Pandemic

Simple Things You Can Do in a Time of Pandemic
(a list for those feeling ineffectual, a work-in-progress)

1. WASH YOUR HANDS. Wash them frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Teach your children and other household members to do the same. Model it for others in public places, helping to make it a social norm. However this goes, that can only be helpful.

2. GO OUTSIDE. Go out into the fresh air if you can. Staying cooped up in your home can be a recipe for stress and breathing stale air doesn’t help. If you can’t go out, try opening a window or turning on a fan (which can disperse water droplets, lowering their concentration of virus). If you can go outside, and if you can garden, now is an excellent time; it’s good for your health in all sorts of ways, and your mental state too.

3. ISOLATE. Practice social distancing as possible. (I cancelled all my optional meetings, and am switching over as much as I can to Zoom.) Even if you’re not likely to get very sick, you can easily carry the disease to others.

4. RESTRUCTURE SOCIALIZING. Think about how isolation may be affecting you; if it’s making your mental state worse, consider options for socializing. Long phone calls with a friend? Asynchronous video game in between your work tasks? (I love Terraforming Mars for that.) Set up a computer screen with Zoom for you and a few friends or workmates or relatives, and just leave it running in the background as you go about the day, so you can chat on occasion as desired, ask a question, etc? Humans are pack animals, for the most part. Left alone, many of us tend to fret.

5. LAY IN REASONABLE STAPLES. If you can afford it, add a few staples to your groceries, aiming for two weeks’ worth of supplies on hand (if you have the space). Don’t hoard; others may need it far more urgently. Especially don’t hoard masks; medical personnel need them. If you’re not already doing grocery delivery, and it’s available to you, try it — one person doing food shopping for seven families and dropping groceries on porches is much less likely to spread contagion than those seven (or seventy) people going to the grocery store.

6. STAY INFORMED, BUT NOT TOO MUCH. Stay informed, but if social media is starting to stress you out, walk away. Turn off Facebook for a while, close the computer. The flood of information can be compelling, but it can also cause a lot of anxiety, and remember, as in any crisis, that a good percentage of early info will be wrong. Unless you have a responsibility to stay on the cutting edge of the info, you may be better served by waiting a day or two, letting others verify and process it, and then summarize the parts you actually need to know.

7. RECONSIDER TRAVEL. Think about whether you really need to take that upcoming trip, whether it’d be worse to be quarantined in that area, and be prepared to cancel travel at need. (For me, I have to go through a bit of a mental process of frustration, grief, and acceptance before I’m ready to do that, so might as well start early.)

8. CHECK IN. Elderly relatives, neighbors, co-workers, siblings, old friends — there are a lot of people feeling a lot of stress right now, and many may be feeling very isolated and even frightened. If you can check in with them — by phone, in person, online, whatever works — it can help. (It might help you feel better too.)

*****

(I’m going to close my computer soon, and go putter in my garden for a bit. If anyone wants to do an asynchronous game of Terraforming Mars with me in the next few days, holler.  (I probably don’t have the energy to teach, so do the tutorial first on your own, if you haven’t played before.))

Spices and flowers

I stopped by Sugar Beet Co-op this afternoon to get spices that I can toast in preparation for my Feast event there this Friday. From 4-7, I’ll be at a counter showing people how to grind spices to make a curry powder mix, and just talking about spices and South Asian food in general.

I thought about cancelling it, but since it’ll be 1-2 people at a time, most likely, and we still have very low incidence in my area, it doesn’t seem like a high-risk activity for Covid-19 transmission.

Plus, there’s a certain sense that of all the things I can be doing right now that might be helpful, teaching people how to make delicious, healthy food at home is surely one of the most useful. I picked up some flowers too, to cheer my mood. The woman at checkout commented that she envied my organization of spices, that she wished she knew how to cook. I told her to come to my workshop — it’s free!

Spices and flowers. They help.

#serendibkitchen
#serendibteaching
#teachinginatimeofpandemic

Harvard transitioning to virtual instruction

Harvard: “We will begin transitioning to virtual instruction for graduate and undergraduate classes. Our goal is to have this transition complete by Monday, March 23, which is the first day of scheduled classes following Spring Recess.

Students are asked not to return to campus after Spring Recess and to meet academic requirements remotely until further notice. Students who need to remain on campus will also receive instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions. All graduate students will transition to remote work wherever possible. Schools will communicate more specific guidance and information, and we encourage everyone to review previous guidance about both international and domestic travel.

We are transitioning over the course of the next few days to non-essential gatherings of no more than 25 people. Please note this is a change from prior guidance.”

https://www.harvard.edu/covid-19-moving-classes-online-other-updates

Flattening the curve

This is perhaps a dense question, but since I’m going to a conference in Florida in eight days, I’m going to go ahead and ask — would it be much less likely that people will catch coronavirus outside than in a closed conference room at a hotel, right? Less recirculated air, easier to space people out?

I’m wondering if for things like smaller readings, it might make sense to do what we do when the weather is nice on campus, and take some events outside?

*****

I would have never predicted that I’d be awake at 1:30 a.m., researching what goes into building ventilators.

*****

A doctor friend just told me that “Having one person shop for several families and then porch drop the goods is much safer than having everyone do their own shopping.” Which of course makes sense, but I hadn’t thought about it.

We already do most of our grocery shopping through delivery services, but it’s good to know that it doesn’t just save us time; it helps flatten the curve.