Semester’s End: On Figuring Out the Routine for an Academic, Pandemic Summer

Here in this one-bedroom Bloomington Indiana apartment, the Spring 2020 semester is over. Grades have been submitted and approved. Final papers uploaded to their respective Canvas submission pages. Any work I do from here on out will be conducted under the label “Summer 2020.”

I sit on the same spot on my couch that I did yesterday and wonder, so what?

I feel some of the relief but none the celebration that usually accompanies the end of a semester. I’m in no mood to celebrate. At this moment, to do so even seems obscene.

I try to picture what this summer will entail. More sitting at home? Is it safe to travel, not only for me but for those I hope to visit? Am I really stuck in a town that hasn’t grown on me, unable to even visit friends, for the next three months? That the summer months might be no different from the past two months is a thought I try to suppress quickly, while not-so-secretly believing it might be true.

Many have offered opinions on how to approach the current reality. Some would say buckle down, “grab your extraordinary privilege by the horns,” and produce top-notch academic work. Fortunately, others are better about acknowledging reality and our inevitable human needs, including slowing down, grieving, and resting. Somehow an on-going traumatic event really wears you out. Strange.

Routine vs. Reality

On my first day of summer 2020, I slept in a little late. I made my coffee, read, got dressed (mostly because maintenance was coming by), and then opened my laptop. Habit. There are always emails anyway.

For me, an early-stage student in a highly structured graduate program, with no children or elderly parents to care for, summer is intimidating partly due to the loss of routine. The routine itself isn’t so important; I assure you I’m happy to be done with course papers and grading. What I’m missing is the function of a routine. Routine is normalcy. It’s being able to shut out the world for just a little bit and make progress on one little thing, no matter how insignificant that thing may be.

And isn’t routine what all the mental health articles recommend? Get dressed like normal. Have your coffee. Sit down in the same place in your house to work. Try to trick your mind and body into believing that nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Am I getting it right?

Yet routine feels at odds with reality. To be fully in touch with reality right now would be to get nothing done at all. People are dying. We are not in good hands. Many more of us will die and those deaths will disproportionately occur among Black, Brown, and poor communities.

Even as these disparities play out in new ways, old forms of racism continue. The government attempts to disestablish the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe’s reservation status. ICE raids continue. Ahmaud Arbery is gunned down while on a jog in broad daylight and his murderers aren’t charged until a video of his death goes viral three months later.

And I’m here keeping my routine.

A routine may be a lifeline. But to be human (and humane) is to allow disruption. There is a power in disrupting routines, just as there is a kindness in easing up on deadlines during a pandemic, in recognizing when things are larger than our all-important routines.

I find that the tricky thing is now figuring out a balance, one that allows me to keep my health and well-being while remaining attuned to the problems we should be facing together.

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