I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I have been finding the last few weeks as we have moved out of lockdown very unsettling. Whilst lockdown wasn’t easy, it seemed simpler, with just a few big messages and guidelines to follow. A walk a day, no mixing with other people, just going to the supermarket, moving the majority of personal and professional interactinos online, a rhythm of weekly blog posts.
That has almost all gone. Now, we can go more places, see more people. There is a veneer of “normality”, but it is very fragile. Whilst others around me seem to embrace this, I am finding it hard. Life isn’t what it was pre lockdown, and it hasn’t yet formed into whatever the “new normal” will be. We are in this strange in-between place, where some things seem almost normal but aren’t.
For example I went to the supermarket this morning, it was quiet, it was fully stocked, they were clearing out small bags of flour for 15p a packet – no-one was filling a trolley full of that. Apart from wearing a mask, hand sanitiser and disinfectant spray at the entrance, screens and physical distancing at the check outs, it felt the most “normal” since early March. I went out for lunch last week, which entailed going into the city centre for the first time in 5 months. Again it was almost normal, bar the face masks on the waiting staff, the hand sanitiser spray at the entrance, and the physical distancing in the restaurant.
But it’s not normal, and I am finding it all unsettling. I keep thinking of “the upside down” from the TV series Stranger Things. That parallel dimension where all the spooky things live, where something very, very bad wants to destroy “our world”. You really don’t want to get dragged into the upside down
The emphasis on care that was so tangible during lockdown seems to be slipping too. In our efforts to protect ourselves we are using more disposal plastic than ever, encouraged not to use public transport but our cars. Disposal face masks and gloves are not bio degradable but some people seem to think that they are, just dropping them wherever and whenever they have served their temporary purpose. I have found an outlet to express some of my reactions to this here. But once again it is all very unsettling. The consequences of not looking after our environment are even more dangerous for us than covid, but I feel that climate change seems to have disappeared into the upside down.
Is the explicit emphasis on care for our students, colleagues, courses going to be just as prominent in the new academic term as it was during lock down? I hope so, but I don’t know. Will the emphasis on staff support and development in online delivery be sustained or have we “all done the VLE training” now? Will the level of sharing of resources continue or will the drive to survive promote a culture of closed resources? I hope not, but I don’t know.
I’ve been very fortunate that during lockdown I have had a steady amount of work (that you to all who have employed me over the last few months!) I’ve had some great speaking opportunities that seem to have resonated and have got good feedback. At the same time, I have had conflicting emotions of guilt because I’ve not been working 15 hour days, having days full of online meetings, that I’m not doing more or as much as many of my peers seem to be doing coupled with relief that I don’t have to do 15 hour days and have days full of online meetings, etc, etc.
Now I just have a gnawing worry that I might not get any work again as university budget cuts start to hit home. Am I too far away from the reality of contemporary university life to be of any use?Am I slowing being sucked into the upside down? I can feel myself withdrawing from networks, not contributing. It seems to take more of an effort some days than others to go on twitter, to write a blog post, to voice my opinion. But in order to eat I need to be doing that to let people know that I am here, that I have experience to offer, that I am not an imposter, that I am not going to be trapped in the upside down.
I’m not quite sure where I am right now, like everyone else I’m just figuring it all out. I hope that in trying to explain and share my feelings might help not just help me, but someone else too. And of course if you think I can help you, please do get in touch and maybe we can save ourselves from the upside down as we navigate our way into whatever our new normal might be.