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.

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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.


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A universal “gap year” might be coming

Amherst has just closed its campus for the semester. I’m seeing a lot of stress on various college parent pages, a lot of uncertainty, and while I am no expert (I’m not sure anyone really is right now), I think most of the colleges and universities will be closing campuses soon, switching to remote learning, from what I’ve been tracking.

The Spanish flu hit much harder in the cities that didn’t close their schools. I’m sure everyone at higher levels is taking that, along with the undoubtedly far higher rates of coronavirus in the US. than we currently know about, given the abysmal rollout of testing kits and general presidential denialism, and drawing the same conclusions I am.

(Italy has just banned weddings for the duration — you can get married with an officiant and a witness, but that’s it. Your guests can watch it streamed.)

I would expect many colleges to close soon, and plan accordingly. Some parents I see are telling their kids to pack what they can easily carry, and they’ll deal with collecting the rest when they can.

In terms of educational disruption — I saw one comment that what’s happening in Japan and elsewhere may lead to our all treating this as a universal “gap year.” We’re going to be scrambling in academia to think through what is the best way to foster student learning in this environment, and minimize the consequences for young adults and their families.

I’m sorry.

This spreadsheet is tracking colleges and university closures: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/19wJZekxpewDQmApULkvZRBpBwcnd5gZlZF2SEU2WQD8/htmlview


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Possible school and campus closures

One thing that frustrates me about universities and colleges that don’t close their campuses, is that administrators are likely looking to the public schools for a cue, in a cover-your-ass type move. But that is exactly wrong. However hard it will be to close college campuses and switch to remote learning, it is FAR harder for public schools to close, with a host of consequences for children and working parents.

“Officials in NYC said they would close public schools only as last resort, in part because about 114,000 students in school system are homeless and may have nowhere else to get hot meals, medical care, or even a place to wash their dirty laundry.”

This country.


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Public service note

Not everyone who will need to work or study remotely has reliable internet access. As a public service note, and as a member of my library board, I’d like to make sure folks know that the Oak Park libraries (and parks) all have free WiFi, and will also allow you to check out a WiFi hotspot to take home for up to a week:


I imagine many other libraries offer similar options — this document mentions that Chicago and Forest Park do.

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Working remotely

Anand has a sniffle, and I am almost positive that it’s not coronavirus, because that is super-unlikely here in Chicagoland right now, but we’re keeping him home tomorrow just in case, to see if it clears up. I was already wondering whether it would be more responsible to teach remotely, given that I’d just attended a conference in the Bay Area and taken planes back and forth, spending a fair bit of time in two major airports (O’Hare and SFO).

While my campus actually lets us take a sick day if we need to take care of a sick child (I think they had a surprisingly sane policy about that even before we had a union), I’m not going to just cancel classes. Instead, I’m planning to e-mail my students now (I just walked in the door from the Lyft from the airport) and tell them that we’re going to try working remotely tomorrow.

I’m going to take time tomorrow morning to get myself up to speed on Blackboard’s tools for remote instruction. I kind of hate Blackboard, but I guess it’s time to grit my teeth and get it over with. If anyone here can point me to good Blackboard tutorials that are actually up-to-date, I will be grateful forever, because I keep trying to look up Blackboard things online and the tutorials I find are inevitably for earlier versions of the system and are USELESS to me. I feel old and slow and it’s very frustrating, so please explain Blackboard to me as if I’m 80 and have never used a computer before. (And if *I* am going to find this difficult, please extrapolate to all the other faculty, many older than I and / or less tech-savvy, who are going to be in the same boat.)

I’ll also record video lectures for the material we’d have covered in tomorrow’s classes. I think I can also use Gchat (?) to be available to them during class time in case they have questions. Maybe we can Zoom? I’ve never set up a Zoom, though I’ve participated in lots. I don’t know if it can handle a class of 22, though?

Luckily, neither of my classes for tomorrow had anything particularly participatory scheduled for tomorrow, so transitioning to video lecture for one day will be relatively easy. I have no idea how science professors holding lab classes are supposed to do remote learning effectively.

Documenting all this publicly in large part because we are all figuring this out together right now, and if other faculty need support in pushing against unreasonable administrators, well, here’s one NTT English professor at a major state University and how I’m handling it right now.


This is the letter I just sent my students:

Students, I’m seriously concerned by how the coronavirus situation is progressing in the U.S. Right now, there’s no immediate indication that UIC will close, so generally, you’ll be expected to attend classes as usual. However, I’ve just gotten back from my conference, and given that the situation where I was (Bay Area) has worsened notably in just a few days and I’ve just been on two planes and in two busy international airports, I’m going to use tomorrow to get us all up to speed on remote learning.

I’m going to take time tomorrow morning to review Blackboard’s tools for remote instruction. I’ll also record video lectures for the material we’d have otherwise covered in tomorrow’s classes. I’ll need to look into whether I can use Gchat to be available to you during class time in case you have questions. Maybe we can Zoom? More to research. Expect another e-mail from me sometime tomorrow morning with more details for the next few days, and probably some extra writing assignments, but for now, just keep up with your readings and reading journals.

Finally, please do take this seriously. If you are immuno-compromised right now, or have members of your household who are, or have contact with elderly relatives, you may choose not to attend classes on a crowded campus. I can’t speak for other professors at UIC, but for myself, even if I’m back to teaching regularly on Wednesday, I’ll be very happy to work with you to ensure that we can let you continue learning remotely without endangering yourself or your household; just let me know.

Mary Anne


(Photo taken from this EdWeek article from two days ago on how many school districts won’t be ready for remote learning: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2020/03/05/many-districts-wont-be-ready-for-remote.html


I’m not in university administration, but if I were, I would seriously think about cancelling a day of classes this week and having the whole university, faculty & students, do a mandatory training on remote learning. We cancel classes (reluctantly, I admit) for bad snow days, so it’s not as if there’s no precedent.

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A project that crystallized last week

So, I think I’m ready to talk a little about this new project that crystallized last week. (Photo of dragonfruit chocolate bars ‘crystallized’ for inspiration.)


There are multiple elements coming together in this, things I’ve been working on and thinking about for a long time. I’m still not positive of what the final shape will be.

• the memoir: I’ve been working for a while on a project titled _Domestic Resistance_, a meditation on how we stay sane while under siege in the Trump presidency, how handwork and reclamation of heritage skills, appreciation of culture and diversity, celebration of community and the joys of making all came together to sustain me (as I worked on my Sri Lankan cookbook in the last few years) through intense work, deep political frustration, and occasional flailings of despair. Asking how we can work for change without exhausting ourselves.

• the makerspace: we may have found a place in Forest Park for the first stage of the writing / textile arts / tech makerspace that we started planning two years ago. Our hope is that it allows the community to share their knowledge, help each other over the initial humps of uncertainty and anxiety, finding our way to new skills and approaches that make our lives better in a host of ways. I have some legal and financial details to work out still, and then there’ll be a Kickstarter to help get us off the ground (looking for around $25K in initial funding, I think), but I hope we’ll be up and running soon, possibly by May.

(NOTE: the space won’t be wheelchair accessible, unfortunately; you’ll need to be able to navigate a flight of stairs to access it. My plan is that if people who can’t access it want to sign up for a class, we’ll find an alternate accessible location for that class. And then long-term, we’ll continue looking for accessible spaces in the area. Ideally, I’d eventually like to grow into a constellation of spaces in Forest Park, Oak Park, Austin, etc.)

• the magazine: this is the newest bit, and still a bit inchoate. For my memoir, I was already thinking that I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a traditional book — I was wondering what it might look like as a quarterly magazine, sort of a cross between Martha Stewart Living and Granta. Glossy, beautiful photos, a year in the life, combining running for office, the tail end of cancer treatment, the house and garden and parenting and engaging in local politics, and of course, cooking.

Last week, I realized that it would be SO GREAT to extend that into a broader publication. I’ve been increasingly frustrated by how balkanized communications media are becoming, and at least locally, we’re really splitting demographically, with some people reading the print Wednesday Journal, some people mostly on FB groups (often very private ones), some people mostly auditory listeners, and the kids are on TikTok and SnapChat doing god knows what…

If we had a publication that showcased progressive voices and conversations, in a variety of areas (garden, food, schools, etc.) and if we could push it out in multiple media (a print version, an online version, a podcast, TikToks, etc.), maybe we’d have a chance at actually talking to each other, actually listening.

So often when I was running for office, I found that with something as simple as getting rid of fines at the library, people I talked to were initially resistant, but all they needed was for someone to actually present the argument to them, and then they realized that yes, doing this would actually align with their values. And we could afford it too.


That’s where my head is right now. I have a lot more specifics, but I think the next stage is a whole host of conversations. I’m going to want to shape this very carefully, if it’s to do what I hope it’ll do, and I’m going to need a lot of community input.

But I think my own memoir would be interesting in conversation with a broader community magazine, and the magazine would be in conversation with what we do at the makerspace, and as Serendib Press develops, Stephanie and Heather and Darius and Emmanuel and Julia are learning more and more about the publication process, so we’re getting into a better position to do this well.

So that’s where I am right now. I’m about to go out of town, and much of March is super-absorbed with travel and Feast launch events. But I’m going to be talking to people, local and otherwise, about all of this. We’ll see where it takes us.

(We’re going to need a name.)

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Answering interview questions about the history of queer SFF

I just spent an hour answering some interview questions about the history of queer SFF, answer as a writer, editor, teacher, and arts administrator.

I’m looking forward to reading the final round-table discussion. (I mean, not really a round-table, since we’re not responding directly to each other, but a set of responses, at any rate.)

Will post when it’s up, of course! :

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A series of discombobulations this week

Yes, I left my laptop in my office on Monday. Whew. Coming in just now on Wed to teach and confirmed. I *thought* so, but wasn’t positive I hadn’t left it in a classroom…

Just one in a series of discombobulations this week. Sigh.

I *also* apparently scanned in the reading for the students whose books hadn’t come in yet, *and* uploaded it to my computer, *but* failed to actually send it to them via Blackboard, so half the class hadn’t done the reading (none of them contacted me yesterday to ask why it hadn’t gone out, of course). It was okay, as I really wanted to spend today’s class on something else anyway, but contributes to general sense of frazzled and dropping balls. GAH.

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