the grid

the grid

Saturday 18 April 2020

Reflections on early 2020

This is the report-on-session-goals post that I promised back in week 1, and alluded to in my last post, the one for week 13.

One reason I wanted to wrap up the January-April 2020 session this week is that I expected to be away for about ten days, starting yesterday. In the Time Before, I planned to fly to Ireland last night, and spend today looking at a manuscript. Then over the weekend I'd move on to the UK for a conference.

So that didn't happen.

I expect we all have stories of what we planned and what happened instead. Some of you have been reflecting on session goals already in the comments to the last post, the one where we set goals for the week now ending, the one where Humming42 collected the session goals so we could see if there was anything we wanted to do this week in order to try to meet some session goal or other.

In my e-mail today, I did get notice of a request for short pieces about manuscript work, and I'm thinking about whether I might answer that CFP. It would be an homage to what I thought I'd be doing today, what I hope to do sometime in the next year (b/c airline voucher), what I wonder if I'll get to do at all before there's a vaccine.

Tell us what has changed, what matters now, what you did achieve before the Great Pause, what might have happened almost in spite of the Pause.

Also: who would like to host the next session, and what do you have in mind for start/end dates?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. My session goals (copied from last week--thanks, Humming42, for collecting these!):
    Live with uncertainty and work the process w/r/t selling the house.
    DONE!!! Our house is under contract with a June closing. We're now looking for a new place to live.
    Complete one conference paper; plan it as an article from the beginning.
    SCRATCHED: conference cancelled. Maybe next year.
    Send out another essay, about half done now.
    DONE! Sent in early February.
    Make some progress on book.
    Only if you count a page or so of reading notes.
    Manage teaching, grading, and admin efficiently.
    YES! The work of 3 ad hoc committee assignments that I took on last week is now completed, although now I'm on a promotion case. Teaching is still in progress and it's eating my brain, or maybe I just mean it's what I hold onto and keep working at, because I can just about get my head around assignments and grading, whereas research is not happening right now.
    Get tax stuff taken care of in a timely way.
    NO: taking advantage of those extended deadlines.
    Make arrangements for spring and summer travel.
    SCRATCHED: unfortunately I was a little too efficient and am now holding a flight voucher I don't know if I'll be able to use, and need to see if I can get a hotel voucher for another trip.
    Regular exercise, daily stretching, good sleep hygiene, and cooking to accommodate dietary restrictions.
    YES: well, trying. Sleep, as always, is the trickiest bit.
    Have some sort of social life.
    YES: how clever of me to add the qualifier! Before the shutdown, it was going well. Now it's all on Zoom. Sir John has been setting up many many Zoom calls, and I'm wondering who is this extrovert living in my house.

    1. Congratulations on the contract for the house. And I count this a successful session all in all!

    2. Oh wow, congratulations on the house indeed! What a victory, after such a long and winding road...

    3. I'm going to have to hold onto the motto through the house search. We didn't even want to start looking till we had a buyer. So far, we've made one offer, rather low because the house would need a new roof & various other work; the sellers countered, providing info on why they didn't want to lower the price more, including the fact that they'd done mold abatement in the attic.


      We declined to negotiate further, and have rounded up another batch of houses to visit. Sellers of the one we walked away from have had a roofing company evaluate their roof, and sent us the report, which just underlines that the roof really has to be replaced and that there could be further problems in the attic. People are weird. Why are they pursuing us with reports when we said we were done? They want a higher offer, fine, wait for someone who isn't allergic to mold!

      They also weren't happy that our offer had to be contingent on the sale of our current house; well, guess what, I'd like that not to be the case too (2 closings and a move in one day, UGH), but it is what it is, and I hope they get a non-contingent offer. I'm a little worried about other people also not liking our necessarily-contingent offers. I suppose, worst-case, when this house closes, we put furniture in storage, move into a short-term rental, and then can make offers that don't have the contingency.

      At any rate, uncertainty continues!

  3. Congratulations on having a contract on your house!! Here's a glass of virtual champagne!

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! It has been a LONG time coming and it is such a relief. Of course moving will be its own hassle but I am excited about getting into a newer house that will not have all the issues this one has had.

    2. Adding another yay to that! Also giving credit where it's due, DEH: I copied and pasted the session goals that you organized mid-session. Thank you for the hard work.

    3. Fabulous news about the house!

    4. Yay house!That must be a huge relief!

  4. Not a bad week, I got some decent work done, and my class is over and done and finished… I would be up for co-hosting the next session, perhaps starting on May 3rd? Or later if better for more people...

    Last week’s goals:
    1) Get back to neglected paper and work on figures DOING…
    2) Review student’s thesis draft, for real! DOING…
    3) Run at least 4 times DONE
    4) Practice more than twice DONE
    5) More outside activities when it eventually stops raining… DONE
    6) Finish course grading and submit all final grades! DONE YAY!!!!

    My session goals were to:
    1) Keep teaching organized and contained – mostly succeeded with this one. Of course there were a few weeks early in semester where it took over everything (midterm weeks and beginning) and the “pestilential pivot” (Thank you JaneB for the BEST phrase for this, borrowing as homage!) to online stuff ate a whole month of my existence but other than that… it was good. It didn’t hurt that the class was a better group than last term too… I’m proud of delivering a reasonable facsimile of my regular class while being very supportive of students during a very hard time for them (the many sweet thank you notes after my last goodbye/congratulations message made me cry a little, in a good way!).
    2) Finish two first-author papers – one is done and the other one is excavated from the depths where it has been lurking and mouldering. I also did my parts for three already submitted/accepted co-authored papers, that will be five in the couple of weeks adding the ones I’m working on now, so I’m happy with that.
    3) Think about sabbatical and future projects – I pretty much ditched this one since head space was not there. And then head space shrank some more, and now I don’t even know if I’m taking the sabbatical…
    The replacement goals were ok… 4) Do fabulous job of fancy future talk, and finish the paper that goes with it TALK POSTPONED INDEFINITELY, PAPER MAKING PROGRESS… and 5) Help student through writing and submission of masters project papers IN PROGRESS AND GOING WELL…
    In a bonus achievement, I’m really happy that I’ve started running again consistently, that has been a sanity saver!
    Things that are still uncertain: No field work unless things get a lot better later in the summer – this one is tough for me, it is the best part of the year and the best part of my job. Definitely a wait-and-see thing, maybe, maybe not… Sabbatical may or may not happen, again, wait-and-see… There is a small part of me that is faintly intrigued by the challenge of putting a course online if I have to. I’ve mostly adjusted to working from home. Still don’t like it much, but it is much better than the first couple of weeks. Child is doing well, school is sending online work so there is some additional structure which helps a lot.
    But seriously, when this thing is over I’m going to take my tent and I’m going to hike up the back-end of beyond in one of our big rivers far far away from town and I’m going to find a nice tree to camp under for a week or more, completely alone, by myself, with nobody who wants to talk to me…
    Thanks to our lovely hosts for great stories and prompts and everyone for company!

    1. Gigantic cheer for being done with classes and posting final grades! I hope you'll have an opportunity to get that much-needed solitude and also hope you'll have the opportunity for field work.

    2. Daisy, if no one else volunteers, I will co-host.
      And watch the world while you disappear from civilization.

    3. Glad to hear your teaching went well despite eating all the head space!

    4. I think you'd make a wonderful co-host. I very much appreciate your good cheer and equilibrium during this session. I also like your camping idea.

  5. First, I want to thank Dame Eleanor Hull for being a splendid co-host.

    This has been a very strange time of late. As a bibliophile and book reviewer, I am secretly delighted by the opportunity to attend virtual readings and book release parties. The nearest major city where people would hold such an event is two hours away, and while I often wish to go to this or that reading and book signing, I always decide I just can’t commit to the drive. I’m hopeful these virtual events will continue along with a return to in person readings.

    Sticking with the theme of moving online, the abstract I submitted for the online conference is one usually held in various European locales, and I’m planning to submit to another that’s moved online that I normally would not consider because of travel costs. I’m looking forward to “attending” both of these conferences even if I don’t have the opportunity to present.

    I did get an acceptance to a conference that’s been moved to Summer 2021, so that’s something to look forward to even though it’s a long way off. I feel like I am beginning to be less distracted and better able to focus during the day, so I am hopeful that real research and writing will be more possible soon.

    Looking back at last week:
    1 submit book review: no
    2 submit abstract for online conference: yes
    3 review two journal articles: no
    4 think about regrouping and futuring (since I’m distracted by it, I should make it a goal, yes?): thinking

    Stay healthy, stay strong until we reconvene.

    1. It's been fun, Linda! It's interesting seeing the changes that come as things move online. Clearly it's good for some people. I'm not sure I could concentrate on a paper delivered through my monitor, but that's me, and I hope you enjoy your virtual conferences.

  6. This was a good session, and particularly useful as the world went crazy the last six weeks.
    As I noted above, I'm willing to co-host with Daisy if no one else volunteers (I did it in the fall, but it will help me keep structure...)

    1. By mid- April, have 20,000 words on Writer 10-15,000
    2. Revise Race/Patriarchy to give it in early March YES
    3. Write essay on weird and interesting plays for conference NO, delayed to next year
    4. Get all contributors for the Big Book lined up YES
    5. Regular exercise YES
    6. Read books YES
    7. Aim for 7 hours of sleep NO

    As I noted last week, I have done *pretty well* on my session goals, though I haven't written as much as I'd hoped. Today I finally cleared off the piles on my desk that had haunted me, with the goal that I can really start writing tomorrow, though actually that's reading stuff. I've been thinking a lot, so maybe clearing the stuff will help me write.

    In the alternate universe, I would have been in an airplane on my way to a conference today, but of course that conference has been put off till next summer. I've missed lots of travel in the last month, and it was all travel that brought me together with friends. I have been zooming a lot, and while the cross-country group of women with a weekly zoom happy hour is really nice for connection, I miss being physically with people.

    Goals from last week:
    1. Famous Author: Let go of introduction, get back into early life chapter. Figure out education section YES and NO (I let go of the introduction, started thinking about the next chapter, but wrote almost nothing.
    2. 6 more journal issues (I seem to be able to do this, so that's what I'll do. NO
    3. Figure out a book to read for fun (clearly my current book is not "fun", which is why I'm not reading it. YES
    4. Get up at a regular time SOMEWHAT BETTER
    5. Keep walking YES
    6. Mindfulness/ relaxation? NO
    7. Keep on staying in touch with people YES
    8. Practice kindness to myself and others YES

    I think (she says optimistically) I'm getting a handle on working in this context, and maybe the levels of existential dread are declining? It's still hard to get out of bed, but I've actually been doing it, and accomplishing stuff. SLowly, but doing it. But everything feels more complicated.

    In the good news, by the end of the week I'll have my shipment of King Arthur flour, and have a sourdough starter ready to go.

    1. Oh, and while Daisy is fantasizing about hiding in the woods, my fantasies are about travel... I still have a ticket for July work/vacation, in the UK, and we'll just see. Otherwise, I might just visit friends in the US...

  7. This semester continues to be long and incredibly difficult. I planned to report here Monday evening after class. The prof was inventing new off-syllabus assignments for the last two class sessions, since a 30-page article to be submitted tomorrow isn't enough for a 2-credit class. Spare me!!

    However, our Standard Poodle was not doing well, so the evening was spent talking over our options. By Tuesday morning, it was clear she was succumbing to her chronic kidney disease, and we called the vet to set up euthanasia. By the time the vet, and Brigid, were gone, I was a mess, and tired of all that this year has taken away.

    Therefore, my view of my session goals are likely to be skewed, but here we go :
    Move about for ten minutes of every hour. I did pretty well until the lockdown; only about 45% compliance post lockdown.
    Continue to streamline the work office. I have less space in my far more congenial office, so it is time to be unsentimental. I did well on this organizational project before lockdown. The focus has shifted to the home office, but these last few weeks, I often needed to sit with Brigid to keep her company, and she couldn't make it up the three flights of stairs to the garret. After I turn in the team paper tomorrow, I will set to work in earnest.
    Draft Elzevier. This project requires research in paper sources, so it has been set aside until I can get back to several archives.
    Begin editing special issue. My co-editor said in January that he wouldn't have a lot of time to work on this project until May, which is almost here. I need to resurrect my notes, which I know I tossed into my rolling bag when I left my work office in mid-March. The hunt will commence this weekend.
    Edit the Illuminated project. A piece of the dissertation, and a favorite part of it. I have my notes from my presentation at Kazoo, and can incorporate some of them, while some will need hands-on-paper time.

    Analysis: Like all of you, I have had a long, tough, and exhausting semester. Although not officially over until May 5th, logistically it is over tomorrow, and I will raise a glass to toast its ending.
    I look forward to decluttering, and prepared by watching an entire season of Marie Kondo while sitting with Brigid and sewing face masks this past week.
    I look forward to sitting outside and assembling the pieces of research that I can do from my front patio.

    I will add my progress on my weekly goals later today or tomorrow.

    I hope all of you and yours are well and happy. Float like mist, everyone.

    1. I am so so sorry to hear about Brigid. It sounds like you were able to get the vet to the house, which is always a small mercy. This has indeed been a hard semester in many ways for you.

    2. So sorry to hear about Brigid. They leave such a huge hole, and whilst it's the last kind and loving thing we do for them, it's always so difficult to have to intervene like that.

    3. Thank you, Dame Eleanor. If we had taken her in, only one of us could have been with her. Even the vet said Brigid was not a one-person dog. So all four of us were with her--she looked around at each of us to make sure, right before the vet sedated her.

      And thank you, Jane. She was ready and it was a kindness, but she does leave a great hole, indeed.

    4. I'm so sorry about Brigid. It's always hard, but with the existential doom that surrounds us, it must have been doubly so. I'm glad you were all with her.

    5. Thank you, Susan. It was strange for all of us to be in masks and gloves, but despite the weirdness of it, we were so relieved the vet would come to the house.

  8. Last week's goals:
    Do peer review for class. Yes.
    Write introduction and conclusion for team paper. Yes.
    Spend 30 minutes every day on Illuminated. No.
    Order stamps. Yes.
    Write one card x 5. Only 2.
    Poke about visibly on social media ½ per day x 5. Only 3.
    Check on my sister at least every other day. Yes.
    Walk up at least two flights every 45 minutes. Yes.
    Walk around two blocks twice a day. No.

    Analysis: The team paper was a cheat of sorts, in that it was almost TRQ. I did unearth all my paper notes on Illuminated, including the scribblings from when kind people gave me insights after I gave the paper at Kazoo.

    I did order stamps, without realizing that they would not arrive for well over a week. I've clearly been spoiled by Amazon. I did scrounge enough stamps from my desk to reply to a colleague's condolence card about my sister (the news has traveled slowly given the lock down) and a note to my other sister.

    I did not get out to walk. It has snowed every morning for the past week, and I'm very grumpy about it.

    Thank you to our lovely co-hosts, Dame Eleanor and Humming, for keeping the conversation interesting during this crazy time.

    I'd be happy to pinch-hit if Daisy disappears to do field work or Susan jets off to visit friends in the summer session. As to start time, I am ready at any time.

    1. Side note: I thought it was rather funny that my USPS order for postage stamps didn't have tracking information! I'm spoiled by amazon too.

    2. I mean, my feeling is, I'm not going anywhere soon...

  9. Well. WHAT a session. That was pretty nuts. Things are still getting worse here in many ways - several people I knew through my field have died of the virus, a few students are starting to lose friends and family or to be coping with new responsibilities because some near connections are seriously ill/fully self-isolating to avoid spreading virus during or after illness/in hospital, our government... well, I'd better not start.

    Positives, well, let's see - first my new laptop arrived and got set up. It's not the laptop I was saving for, but it's solved about 2/3 of my technical issues (the rest are caused by Crappy University Chosen Software (TM) and Inadequate Home Internet). So now I 'just' have to do a lot of catching up... what's super weird is that I'm still using the exact same external keyboard, but it feels slightly different and seems to SOUND slightly different because the letters on the screen no longer lag occasionally. Brains are odd! My parents are fine and Being Sensible (so many people have difficult elders to worry about at the moment). Ummm... there was something else... oh, I know! Apparently NorthernUni is in a much better financial state than most of our "regional competitors and national comparators" thanks to us having done pretty badly at growing our international student body and never quite getting around to having large overseas commitments like say shared campuses - which means our losses are a LOT smaller than theirs. Every cloud...

    So, session goals:
    A: self-care. Well, considering what else is going on, I'm doing... OK. I could do a lot BETTER, but I keep trying. I just dipped into savings to order a sit-stand setup for my home work area as my home chair (which cost about a fifth of the superduper ergonomic chair I have at the office, but about ten times what a standard basic computer chair costs) is just not keeping my back happy. I'm not supposed to stand for long either, but standing breaks definitely need to be explored... I'm struggling with 'move every 45' because what happens at the moment is I move, I lose focus, I wander off, I do something, I find myself sitting around in a different room noodling on my phone half an hour later, I go back to work, I can't remember what I was doing or why... ugh!

    B) TRQ things - non-research. Do what is necessary without too much embellishment well that was prophetic... and track tasks for new admin roles to create a protocol document nope, because there IS no normal to track...

    1. C) TLQ things - research.
      **Grant-writing - no goal set I actually helped with the development of a super project where I would only be a partner, but it would be super cool science, and also wrote a sub-project for a large pot bid (this would be something like 20 fully funded PhD positions across three partner universities, and I wrote one 1-2 position strand within that) which has got through to the second stage. So not NOTHING.
      ** paper writing: FlatPaper1 - got very stuck on other people not doing things. Has begun to come unstuck. Spent an hour on it in gaps last week, and have a videocall scheduled to work on it next week ProblemChild1 - is submitted and out to review, at LAST!!! LikesMath2 - is actually coming along due to LikesMaths, not to me - they have been in lockdown in a Distant Country and not allowed in the lab to work on their new post-doc project, so decided to do some extra modelling they couldn't do in their PhD, and is now rewriting the much stronger paper),
      **current projects in active research stage - FlatProject - everything cancelled this summer, meetings to decide what to do next week, FavouriteIslandsProject - in trouble, as I have to do benchwork and may not be allowed near my bench for months to come, FluffyProject - stuck on a very late MSc thesis submission, and CommercialProject - hit by shutdown. But I DID make some progress on SurfingProject, a newish one that went from 'sure, here's a copy of some of my papers, happy to help out a grad student' to 'let's have a videocall' to 'let's collaborate' to 'first draft' over the session.
      **Current projects where I supervise others - BrownProject - postdoc arrived, fieldwork is now cancelled, postdoc working hard to develop alternative project - EdgeProject - fortunately not field based, but launched two months late, the laboratory parts (not my job!) are on indefinite hold, and we haven't started to appoint the RA yet. the PhD student recruitment - I'll call that project AtLast since I've been trying to fund the work in different ways for about 15 years now - after lots of delays we interviewed last week and this, made an offer to our preferred candidate, and have a provisional acceptance - once details are settled and paperwork done, I'll believe in that one. And thankfully the first year of it is 'indoors' computer based work, with a field component only starting once the data analysis has been done to create the new hypotheses to test, so there's a reasonable chance we will be able to start in September.

      D) A key goal for me this year is about kindness and being open, about building community in the face of adversity... Well that has been very appropriate. I... try. That's all I can do!

    2. Nuts indeed, and I am sorry things are still getting worse. It does feel like one of our fantasy stories from last year took a sharp left turn toward dystopia. But it is interesting seeing the goals that seem strangely prescient!

  10. The end of the semester crashed down on me with successive waves of grading and administrivia, succeeded by a winter break full of travel and relatives, which in turn gave way to a new term accompanied by new committee assignments along with the usual work of getting to know a new batch of students. Even before the Pandemic hit my university and forced me to teach online, I had forgotten all about Charlotte and her warnings about chaos infestations (and, really, what could I do about them anyway?). My escape reading was mainly D. E. Stevenson’s mid-century light novels (likeable characters, to whom nothing dreadful ever happens), with a bit of Stella Gibbons for variety; I essayed a re-read of the Murderbot Diaries and decided they were too dark for my current state.

    At the end of the spring semester, on a day that kept veering from warm to breezy, I went for a walk, wearing a fleece over a tank top to cope with the temperature changes. As I passed the local branch library two blocks from my house, I noticed a young woman sitting on its steps, under the sign that said “Closed Due to COVID-19.” She was wearing nondescript clothes, but the pink and orange backpack caught my eye. When she saw me, she rose, and waved, but stayed the requisite six feet from me as she said, “Dame Eleanor! I mean, well, you know what I mean. Hello! I’m not really supposed to be here, but I thought you deserved an update. You have enough books that I could probably have come through to your house, but I didn’t think you’d like that.”

    “Well, thank you, Charlotte,” I said. “You’re right, I do think meeting here is more appropriate, and I appreciate your restraint.”

    Charlotte dug in her backpack and brought out a manila folder, which she placed on the ground before backing off a little. “The news is mixed. We were able to stabilize your world a bit, about to the level it was when I first arrived, but there’s no way to bring it back to the point where it split from the world I meant to go to. In that world, Colin Powell was the first African-American president of the United States, so you’ve had twenty years to diverge. But a few of the books I bought were unique, so that helped. And your Latin narrative was . . . unusual. There’s a version of it in the Library already, and a somewhat different—fuller—version on the world you split from, that I thought you’d like to see. That’s what that is,” and she pointed to the manila folder.

    I wanted to see the text, of course, but I knew I’d never be able to publish on it. How could I explain my access to it? Charlotte, however, was a Librarian. “The folder includes papers that establish provenance. The longer manuscript was in a private library in Dresden, copied in the nineteenth century by a young American on his Grand Tour, quarantined there by a measles outbreak. He didn’t have much else to do, so he copied the text and brought it home with him. His family recently donated his papers to your university library. I mean, I just established that they did so, if you see what I mean. You’ll be asked to help catalogue them, once you’re allowed back on campus, since the current Special Collections head doesn’t know Latin. I’m just speeding up your access a little.”

    My mouth did not fall open, but I admit I gulped a bit. Charlotte was definitely not acting like a graduate student any longer. “Thank you,” I said, and advanced to pick up the folder. “That is very kind of you, and I look forward to working on the project.” The breeze dropped, and I took off my fleece, baring my back to the sun.

    “I wanted to recruit you,” Charlotte said, “but you have too many connections here, and you’re probably too old, to be honest. But thank you for all your help. You may not be a Librarian, but if they’d known about you twenty years ago, you’d be a real asset. Anyway, I’m supposed to be on my way somewhere else, so I can’t stay too long.” After a careful look at my back, she turned to the library, said, “Door, open,” and walked through it.

    1. Well, that's your next research project sorted :)

    2. I love this! To be handed another manuscript of a text that only had one exemplar is such a cool idea. And Susan is right, there's the next five years sorted!

  11. The goals from the's interesting looking at the pieces of shattered intention and realising that (a) I was never getting all of this done even if things had continued as they always used to, and (b) that perhaps I have more chance of finishing some of these things now that I feel more settled into the home working routine again.

    finish and submit the sustainable chemistry manuscript - NOPE
    Analyse data and draft a feedback project manuscript - NOPE
    Write new lecture course, deliver, evaluate - PARTLY - done, delivered, no evaluation because of upheaval
    Modify sustainable chemistry lectures with decolonisation in mind - DONE
    Present at national STEM education conference - DONE (and I rejoice in my decision to go to a national conference in January)
    Submit sustainability benchmark documents - DONE
    Complete SFHEA application - NOPE, just doesn't seem that important right now but it is and so I shall persist.

    I think that last bit is key, I need to persist with these things now that the initial panic of 'get all the things online' is over, and before the next panic of 'what do we do next semester' begins. The window of opportunity is shrinking fast, although the panic for next semester just requires decisions in the short term (and in my head I have made them) then a plan to enact over the summer months. I very much feel for those of you with summer sessions.

    I hope you are all doing OK and one of my goals is to be more present here in the next session. Just need a routine and a bit of self-discipline.

    Happy to volunteer as a host for the next session, co-hosting would be easier.