I’ve had a few different ideas about what to contribute to the blog and what may be the most valuable way for me to share my relevant experiences. I like to call this experience the imposter syndrome x perfectionism classic – the good old one-two of holding myself back because of fear of failure :D.
Anyhow, something I’ve been thinking a lot about these past few months is the impact of public spaces being closed during Covid and academic research. I work full time outside of my academic discipline and make incremental and quite slow progress towards my dissertation in what others call my “free time”. One of the main ways I have managed to do this successfully is by maintaining a fairly disciplined schedule of taking my laptop to public spaces. Common favorites include the fancy public library near my work (there is a fireplace in the quiet room, y’all), the less fancy but near to my home public library, the scrappy coffeeshop that supports local youth, and the less scrappy but still local coffee shop that has what seems to be an informal meeting of conspiracy theorists Saturdays around 2 (I enjoy listening in while I fight my writing demons).
All that said, as you may have heard, now we have a global pandemic (nb: by the time I got this edited and posted travel in Europe had resumed so YMMV). So…I don’t go to any of those places anymore. The only place I “go” now to write is to one of the three writing locations in my ~500 square foot apartment. Option one, which is a bit of a required one, since it hosts the desktop that supports my GIS software needed for research but is also the location of my 40-50 hour work weeks, is the dining area / office space. I don’t love being there outside of the work week, which makes dissertation progress problematic. Option two is the couch – a fan favorite because it’s closer to the ac unit in the bedroom, but less productive for GIS usage since that’s laptop based only (my laptop is a chromebook, no GIS to see here). Option three is my bedroom – personal favorite because I almost never bring job-work in here and thus is free to host dissertation thoughts in wild abandon, as well as being immediately adjacent to the window ac unit. The downside of option three is that it is the bedroom, and I do enjoy maintaining a happy sleep-conducive environment there. Dissertations are not always pro-sleep, at least for me.
Given all of that, I deeply miss going to the coffeeshops. I miss hearing the conspiracy theories and the banter between that group and the owner, I miss seeing the tutor and tutee that meet ever Sunday morning at the next table over from where I usually sit at the other coffee shop, and I miss putting my feet up on the stone fireplace in the fancy library while I push myself to focus. I don’t really miss the downtown library, but I do miss the option of going there and getting out of the crowded thoughts that my possessions sometimes induce if I’m working from home. I miss my routine.
I can’t get any of those things back right away, and Wisconsin, where I’m located, is going through a dramatic upswing in cases. I know, that’s a po-tay-to po-tah-to statement for basically everywhere else in the USA. But if you haven’t heard, on top of the general dramatic upswing, Wisconsin has a huge and statewide bar culture. What that means is that even if more people start complying with recommendations, my state and my county (because who are we kidding, I don’t leave the county even anymore) are likely going to continue seeing an upswing for a long time. (Another nb – right now we have a statewide mandate for wearing masks indoors, but that’s constantly being fought by more consertative portions of the state population and legislature) I’m trying to finish my PhD this fall semester so losing my writing places really freaking sucks. I now get to have doubts about just the logistics of writing, let alone the writing itself.
There are some positives – my writing community is stronger because now everyone is forced to be the same level of homebody I am (introverts 4 lyfe!) so everyone is accessible…not all the time, because that’s unhealthy and I don’t want that to be the case, but more regularly than was previously true. Also, I am forced to be in the same space as the computer that has the GIS. I have a…complicated….relationship with GIS and as a pro avoider am good at focusing on laptop based work instead of the GIS work that is actually the core of my dissertation. I’m learning to strike a balance between time needed to be spent at the desktop and between the experience of mobility, choice, and previously held routine. I rotate between the couch and the bed when research time at the desktop will do more mental harm than good.
I’m definitely not going to say I’ve found a great solution, but I will say that finally, five months into quarantine, I am starting getting a semblance of my routine back. Having everything in one space has been hard. But, every half hour spent working on the dissertation, from any location in my apartment, is half an hour closer to graduation, and, perhaps the more tempting lure now, half an hour closer to making my home truly a place of rest and sanctuary, rather than the host to many different types of work that it currently is. I can’t wait!