Tuesday, March 17, 2020


There's a somewhat glib comment pinging around these days about how introverts are built for self-isolation, "social distancing" being so integral to their makeup. I'll admit that I've added my assent to this, yet I'm equally concerned for those natively inward who might painfully discover how much they, in fact, thrive off of the company of others. Everything is strange and feels a bit counter-intuitive right now. I'm struggling with learning how to remotely teach my creative writing workshops (though I recognize how privileged and lucky I am that I have a job that allows me to work from home, and neither are Amy and I burdened by a sudden need for childcare, and so aren't suffering that level of immediate stress.) I so miss my students—their casualness and energy, their cynicism and discoveries, the bunker mentality that they forge over a long semester (or two), their personalities forging, ebbing, at war, at peace. As always, I feel grateful that I'm around them, leading where necessary, following their lead whenever I can, and this sudden lurch away from the intimacies of the classroom is wrenching. Dan Chiasson recently wrote a beautiful, sobering piece lamenting the shut down of college campuses, and one graph in particular resinates with me: "And so the idea of calling [the semester] off, cutting it short, could mean that a student might face violence at home sooner than she’d anticipated. It could mean, for an immunocompromised person, the fear of a reunion with her daughter or granddaughter."
I keep thinking especially of students who are in love, and who may be in love in ways not permitted in their homes or communities. The person you became infatuated with last Thursday is now suddenly going to be on the other side of the world. I think of students whose identities needed the entirety of spring to play out. What will they face when sent abruptly home? They’d just got started.

What's contributing to the uncanny, spooky feel these days is less that we're experiencing that very rare thing, a global phenomenon, when what's happening in South America and Europe is happening, and matters, here, in real time, than the fact that, locally speaking, everything outside the window looks pretty much the same: there are fewer cars, maybe, but they still glide past; car doors open and shut down the street; construction crews are out, God bless them; the newspaper's delivered; food trucks idle in the pre-dawn behind Jewell; the sun is out; the garden needs tending to. But look closer: the Y is shuttered; restaurants and bars and venues are closed to patrons; campuses are emptied. All looks the same, but everything feels off, and the economic suffering will be incalculable. Something invisible is pressing on us that we're reckless to ignore, though we can't see it. Around the world, as I write, the notion of togetherness is being radically redefined. Get in touch with family and loved ones, text or email or call your friends, especially those you haven't in a while. I have no idea how I'll feel, literally and figuratively, in a few months when I read back these sentences. But now they feel urgent.

As usual, I've turned to music for solace. Who knows how to define what Todd Rundgren was doing with Utopia in 1980—parody, satire, genre-fiddling—but however fun and glib the message, delivered with a half-grin and a knowing wink, playing off of early-60s decorum and "Moon/June" coding, Rundgren lays it bare, and his simple statement is a brutally graphic one now. I just want to touch you. Do you want to touch me, too?

Photo CC BY 2.0 by Josep Ma. Rosell via Flickr

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