On March 7th I attended Kamasi Washington’s show at the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City, the same day Oklahoma reported their first COVID-19 case. That is still the last major public event I’ve been. At that point we knew almost nothing about the pandemic and the risk seemed low in terms of attending the concert but as news of the pandemic progressed over the next week I kept questioning whether I should have gone and whether the slightest weird feelings I got were the onset of COVID-19 or just a panic induced response. That Friday, March 14th, I gave an in-person exam in my American history survey and then the class broke for Spring Break and never returned. The quietness of an exam magnifies literally everything in the room but even moreso when you’re giving it with the spector of a global pandemic in the background. Every cough seemed like it was an omen for something far worse than a dry throat. Every sniffle a sure sign that I could be handing out more than grades in a week or so. Nothing came to be from either event as far as know and I was obscenely fortunate to spend March through August essentially secluded at home with reliable pay. Even when I returned to in-person teaching in the fall semester I had a university that was enforcing mask requirements and implemented modified classrooms, even if those classrooms were at times ridiculous.
I wasn’t particularly interested in writing one of these one year of the pandemic posts because given my situation a lot of my life didn’t change all that much. I stopped going to concerts and I became more deliberate about what I do outside of the house but otherwise, life continued as normal. Yet in the last few days as Oklahoma begins warming up for Spring I had some very real flashbacks to March of last year. It was probably spurred on by the events of a year ago but really what sent me back was the fact that I opened the window in my bedroom.
One of my favorite things is that point where it gets sensibly warm enough outside to open the windows that have remained shut for the last however many months. Not only does the house get the distinct spring smell but it feels nicer to have a breeze blowing through. Even though I get the smell every year and cherished it when I grew up in Connecticut where the winters were decidedly harsher than Oklahoma, that smell sent me right back to March 2020. It reminded me of the weird point when I sat at my desk and typed out lessons for the online course and tried to wrap my head around everything that was going on in the world at the same time. It reminded me of the walks and at-home workouts I did at the start of the pandemic to try and keep my exercise routine up, only to have it fall away in the summer when I simply couldn’t do another TRX band workout without hating everything.
I don’t particularly want any of that to ever come back, just as I can’t wait to get to teach a course without a mask and giant socially-distanced rooms. It’s disconcerting that I’ve gone a semester and a half without seeing student faces, without really engaging with them because conversations in large rooms isn’t practical. Plus, lecturing for 45 or 75 minutes with a mask on is beyond annoying. There’s hope ahead that all of this will go away. The university is planning for regular classes in the fall and they’ve just announced that everyone on campus is eligible for a vaccine. Students, faculty, staff, and their spouses. Everyone. Furthermore the University’s health services are both efficient with covid testing and adminstering vaccines, so there’s very real prospects for normalcy in the near future.
Yet there’s still the looming issue of variants and the fact that every spring I’m going to crack the windows and instantly be transported back to that weird time when I watched Youtube videos about making masks with shop towels and why you should wash everything from the grocery store like it was some high-risk hazmat situation. I can’t wait for a time when my biggest worry is weird flashbacks.
Last semester I taught on the basketball courts adjacent to the kettlebell section of the gym and this semester through some kind of weird scheduling decision I have a class capped at less than a hundred in-person students (and 51 actually enrolled) in a gym annex that can sit 300 spread across five basketball courts.
That video has over 26 million views and the doctor who did it hasn’t published a Youtube video since early April when he released one on package and delivery tips. Probably because it pretty quickly got criticized by everyone as ridiculous and potentially harmful.