Hunkering Down at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, April 24, 2020

Well, it's been five weeks---no, wait...I just checked my calendar and actually it has been six weeks. Six weeks indoors, with a few exceptions. On the 12th of March, the day of my last classes before Spring Break, we got the news that we were switching to online education. Then, after a week of "break" that included more emails from my workplace than possibly any other workweek I've ever experienced before, we came back and started to teach online. 

We're just trying to stay above the fray
here at the Borderlands Lodge
It's been okay--I certainly can't complain. Given everything that's been going on, I frankly just feel lucky. I'm still getting paid, I can do my job from home--maybe not the way I like doing it the most, but I can still read, teach, and write. 

Teaching online isn't so bad. Back in the first couple of years when I was working at MSU, I taught online courses in the summer to make some extra money. Granted, I hadn't taught online since then, so it's not exactly like I was in the full swing of things when we made the transition, but still. I had some ideas about what I liked doing online and how I might do them now. There are, in fact, some elements about online education that I think are quite useful, even preferable, to some parts of face-to-face instruction. Since we had already gone through two-thirds of the semester in face-to-face mode, it didn't seem like the sky was falling when we got word that we would be moving to online classes. 

Mainly, I just miss the students and my colleagues. Working with young people--whose lives are still in front of them--is one of the nicest parts of my job. I feel like I feed off of their energy. The wonderful atmosphere of working on a college campus is also one of the highlights of the job, so obviously it's a bummer to not be able to see anybody. After finishing class I love walking over to the library to pick something up and bumping into people I know--other professors, current & former students, staff members I know. I can't say I didn't appreciate all of this in the moment--I certainly did--but I do realize now more than ever how much I like these people and miss seeing them. In the fall semester I'm supposed to be teaching a new class I recently designed on memoir and biography, in which we look at the life stories of people from the parts of the world I work on--the Balkans, Middle East, and former USSR. Hopefully it will actually take place. 

I've been writing a lot. In January and February I wrote another draft of the book I've been working on about Nazım Hikmet. Given the typical rhythms of the spring semester, I had assumed that I wouldn't get a chance to work on another draft until the summer. I'd rented an apartment in Bologna for a month in May and June, so the idea had been that, prior to doing a few weeks of research in Istanbul, I would just chill out in Italy and focus on prettying up my manuscript's prose. 

Well, obviously that didn't work out, but as far as the book is concerned it may have been for the best. Since I've been holed up at home with all of the books that I've been using for the Nazım biography, I've been making much more substantial revisions than I had previously planned. The manuscript needed it, too. Toward the end of spring break--after spending a few days getting my online content prepared for the first week of digital instruction--I sat down to work on the manuscript again for the first time in a couple of weeks. Now, six weeks later, I just finished the Quarantine Draft. It still needs work and is still way too long, but at least I managed to shave about 60 pages off of it over the last six weeks. At least something is getting shaven. 

On the whole, there are worse places to be during a pandemic lockdown. There isn't a whole lot of population density in Montana, of course, and we had an additional week to prepare for things relative to the coasts. The number of cases here peaked at about 450 before it began to decrease this week. Let's hope that continues. 

For the first couple of weeks I was in quarantine we got a fair bit of snow--not so unusual for the northern Rockies in late March. The downhill places were closed and the cross-country skiing was quite mediocre, to say the least, but it was better than nothing. Even skiing on the golf course was semi-decent, with plenty of deer and cranes about, and the occasional owl as well. Back at home, too, I thought I had spotted an owl that had taken up residence in a tree outside my apartment. I later determined that it was actually a vulture. 

So that's kind of how things have been going these days up here. Like everybody else, I'm watching and waiting and trying to keep things together in the meantime. I've also been trying to stay offline as much as possible, devoting at least one day a week to reading something fun--last week I finished Francine du Plessix Gray's brilliant book, Them: A Memoir of Parents

Maybe I'll get a chance to use it in class this fall.  

Are you a Turk across empires? Order a copy today, then get another one for your library.

More commentary, photos, and links can be found at the Borderlands Lounge..  

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