I’ve struggled a lot lately with focus. Even writing this, I’m taking moments to stare out the window, or check Facebook. Or consider checking my work email. Or simply sink into a fairly mild yet constant sense of hopelessness. Why work on my book when, ultimately, in the face of a pandemic and an inevitable global economic depression, whatever I have to say about literacy and learning and emotion is useless? Who would read that when they’re struggling to find work? Who would read that when they’re struggling to stay safe? Who would read that when they’re struggling to stay healthy in body and in mind?
It helps to have meetings with students. Then, I can feel useful. Meaningful. I can check in on them. I can help them with their writing. I can reassure them. I can do some small thing towards helping in this new world of constant crisis.
But, that’s just the thing, isn’t it? I’ve been privileged enough that only now do I feel the ongoing crisis. It’s been there all along. Climate change. Late capitalism. Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Hunger. War. All things I’ve felt to varying degrees, and in many cases not at all as a middle class, white, queer, nonbinary person with a salaried job.
I saw a tweet the other day that said that this pandemic was exposing many people (privileged people—largely, white, straight, middle class) to the myth of certainty for the first time. In many ways, I think they’re right. In other ways, at least for me, despite my very privileged position, I was already existing in a world of uncertainty—about the next job (I’ve been on one-year contracts for the past three years), the next residence (my current visa expires at the end of July), the next step—will I really be able to stay in academia, something I’ve spent the last decade training for? The pandemic has simply tripled the uncertainty.
I wish I could find the exact Tweet. I want to do it justice by quoting it directly. I just spent a good 15 minutes searching for it. This, too, is a small insight into my daily life lately. Write a sentence or two. Spend 10 minutes filling in citation information in Zotero and then copying citations into a document. Spend 30 minutes to 1 hour searching for quotable material. Deciding to check my email in search of some more immediate task. Some kind of task that might help me to feel like I actually have some value in this world. In my work.
Here I am, struggling even when I’m in a comparably stable living situation, with the added support of financially stable parents if necessary.
I can’t imagine what my students are going through. So many are having to choose between returning home, and going through quarantine, during which time they may not have sufficient Wifi to complete the work they need to turn in just a few short weeks from now, or stay in London, in the lonely, small rooms of student housing, separated from their family and friend base in the midst of a pandemic. Many of them have also had to deal with racist rhetoric and threats since the pandemic began. How they’re managing to get so much done, to stay so sane and positive, I have no idea. I wish I personally had more power over the assessments they have been set—to change these assessments to something these students can say, do, and/or make to help them cope. To help them process. To help them express their feelings and thoughts and developing theories during this time of massive change.
All of this underscores for me, even more than before, just how emotional learning and writing and working are. I was hoping, maybe, that I would be able to apply this to my own theorising about embodied-emotional literacy practices. But, to be honest, I’ve got nothing.
Maybe next year.