Like an Unplugged Cable


I’m pretty sure that I’ve already spent more time on campus after the end of this past spring semester than I spent during the semester itself. All of my spring classes were online, so it wasn’t like there was much work I needed to do on campus in those months, and it’s just generally easier for me to take care of non-urgent business there when it’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit outside than when it’s 25 degrees (or, as is usually the case here during the winter months, much colder). We don’t have any major programming on campus during the summers anyway, so things there are very quiet even in the middle of a workday, and as much as I’ve missed being around students since the start of the pandemic, there is something soothing about being able to do things there largely on my own. I’ve even made some trips there over the weekend, when I knew I’d have whole buildings to myself, just to soak in that feeling.

It kind of reminds me of my first visit to campus, the Monday after I arrived in Wisconsin. There was a day of back-to-campus activities for instructors and other employees planned to start early that morning, but I went over to campus a full hour before those activities were scheduled to start so I could look around my new campus and orient myself to things there. I can still remember feeling freaked out when I saw the door to my office (the first office of my teaching career) with my nameplate already installed on the door. Very little had seemed real in the preceding two weeks (up to and including getting the job offer), but I had a very definite “this can’t be happening” response to seeing my name on that door. I went to the cafeteria shortly after that for the opening breakfast, and finally started meeting the other instructors there, including the ones who had interviewed me for my position just a few weeks earlier, and they all welcomed me to my new (work) home.

I’ve definitely felt more and more a part of the campus since then, but I can’t deny that there’s a very big part of me that feels like I’m still just a visitor here in Wisconsin, and that I’ll never feel wholly at home here. That’s probably just because I spent pretty much all of my first forty-two years living in the same city, navigating the same roads, and going to the same places, more or less. People here in Wisconsin have been very kind and welcoming to me, and I’ve tried to reciprocate that kindness whenever I can, but I still long to make trips to the parks ad pizzerias that were such a big part of my life up until I left Toledo in 2017. Even though I honestly don’t see myself living in Toledo ever again (unless I were to somehow get a job at WGTE, perhaps the one thing that would be more personally fulfilling for me than teaching), I have a sense that I’m always going to feel like a transplanted Toledoan wherever I end up. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I worry that the people around me might misconstrue those feelings as me not feeling welcome wherever I am.

The third anniversary of my arrival in Wisconsin is coming up next month, and at that point I will have spent just about half my time here in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Needless to say, teaching and just living under the auspices of social distancing and such feels a whole lot different than the three-and-a-half semesters I taught here beforehand. There was always going to be a “new normal” to adjust to when we resume in-person learning, but with all the recent news of more contagious variants of COVID-19 spreading throughout America over the past few months, it’s clear that trying to guess at what September’s “new normal” will be at this point would be foolish at best.

Our parent campus still hasn’t issued guidance on things like distancing rules and classroom capacities for fall semester, and that’s exactly what they should be doing, because it’s evident that there are still a lot of problems that need to be figured out before the start of the new academic year, and I trust that people far above my pay grade are working through those problems right now. Barring an all-out catastrophe, like a COVID-19 variant that completely bypasses the vaccinations we’ve all been getting, I doubt that our campus will renege on its pledge to return to in-person learning in September, but I doubt that anyone with any sense believes that we’ll have this pandemic completely licked before then, and that will necessitate even more changes between the pre-pandemic normal and the new normal.

Even though I’m not involved in these decision processes, I would be neglecting my duties as an instructor if I weren’t thinking about how my classroom practices will be impacted by whatever winds up happening when the new semester starts, and that may be part of the reason why I’ve been continuing to feel worn out here. My summer class ended a few weeks ago, and I usually feel two or three days of burnout after a term ends, but I still feel like I’m dragging. I’m not sleeping well, I keep having waves of nausea, and trying to think about all the issues I have to sort out over the next couple of months isn’t leaving me with much mental space to consider anything else. My only solace right now is that so many of my friends, both in and out of academia, have been having similar experiences here, so at least I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I’m overly fond of using the phrase “recharging my batteries” when it comes to taking care of myself, whether through an hour-long video game break or not answering emails for a weekend. I’ve been doing what I can over the past few weeks to smooth that process along, so I can be energetic and focused when I start working again (and I’ll be doing some tutoring in early August on top of preparing for my upcoming classes), but nothing has seemed to work. It feels like I plug my “battery” into its charging cable over and over again, but each time I find that the cable wasn’t connected to the wall, so I just feel more and more drained, even when I’m not getting much else done. With my summer break quickly dwindling away here, that is not a good feeling to have.

Maybe I’ll feel better once I get some personal business sorted out here over the coming weeks. Maybe the anticipation of a new academic year, and getting to meet and work with new students, will give me the energy I need once I’m back on a busy campus again. Right now, though, it’s hard to avoid worrying about my ability to adapt to whatever the “new normal” of campus winds up being, and that worry is probably leading to me feeling even more drained. I may just have to wait out these next few weeks and hope that the bustle of campus gets me going again in September, but I don’t want to feel stuck until then, caught in a summer break where my internal batteries just keep draining and draining instead of recharging.

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