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What a Difference a Year Makes

Remember what you were doing last year at this time? Besides making sure your Christmas tree and poinsettias made it to Epiphany, baking vasilopites and more koulourakia, you were probably making New Year’s resolutions. You know – those promises to yourself that you never keep. But it’s a tradition with good intentions, so you try. Besides, this New Year was going to be different. Its name – 2020 – sang promise, optimism, clear vision. Isn’t that what 2020 means, after all?

So you resolved to lose weight, exercise more, spend less time on social media, create and maintain a healthy work-life balance, reconnect with family and friends, watch PBS, volunteer more, run for the School Board, explore new career possibilities, finally travel to Australia, cruise to Alaska, visit the ‘patritha’.

How did that turn out for you?

I, for one, have not baked sourdough bread. I got a recumbent bike for my birthday, so I have been exercising. While I ride, I’ve watched Outlander (yes, I have a crush on Jamie Fraser), The Mandalorian (I received Baby Yoda socks and a blanket for Christmas), The Queen’s Gambit (no, I haven’t taken up chess), The Boys, The Umbrella Academy (these earned me cool points with my students!), The Durrells of Corfu, The Trouble with Maggie Cole, Roadkill, The Undoing, and movies on Disney, Amazon, and Netflix. I am proud to say I have not watched Tiger King.

Instead of fighting Houston traffic for at least 45 minutes back and forth to the university, my work-life balance now means successfully navigating my way from the bedroom to the den, a matter of three seconds. I have to remind myself to eat my lunch in the kitchen and not at my desk, but I do take a break each day to watch Jeopardy. I’ve been living in shorts, T-shirts, and flip-flops, and now, sweatpants, sweatshirts, socks, and flip-flops. One of my colleagues wonders if she’ll remember how to fasten her bra once the pandemic ends and we return to campus.

I’m not on Facebook and I only just got a smart phone, so reducing time on my devices was not a thing. However, since COVID, quite the opposite has happened. Now I’m online at least ten hours a day, teaching, grading, conferencing. I have become something of a zoom nerd, reminding students that their mics are off, to adjust their cameras because I can only see their eyebrows or the ceilings in their rooms. Two classroom etiquette rules: they must be wearing something other than their pajamas, and they must be sitting at a desk or table. We have to maintain some semblance of decorum, after all, though I have watched them munch their way through Oedipus Rex.

I’ve made friends with their pets and, in a few cases, parents who walk through our class with laundry baskets. I’ve watched a baby take his first steps and a five-year old set up her own computer next to her mom.

It’s kind of fun to see this side of the students. How they decorate their rooms – Beatles posters; a giant San Antonio Spurs blanket; crosses; chains of twinkle lights; unicorns; purple walls. Or not – unmade beds, piles of clothes on the floor. Some things never change, not even during a pandemic. Not even when your professor can see your room.

At the start of the pandemic, when we were all on lockdown, reconnecting with family was a welcome idea. Finally, uninterrupted days with loved ones. We could plant a garden, harvest our crops, and prepare healthy, fun meals we’d only seen on TV. We could talk about our lives, complete 2000-piece puzzles as a family, take up hobbies we’d abandoned years before. Was that before or after we home-schooled our children, learning very quickly that one family computer was insufficient to the task, our Wi-fi was unreliable, math and science were incomprehensible, Shakespeare was undecipherable, and teachers were underappreciated and underpaid?

Kim Kardashian complained that all that togetherness with Kanye in one of their sprawling mansions was too much.

Imagine the rest of us.

Obviously, I haven’t been able to travel, but, thanks to zoom, I have spent more quality time with my grandsons. We’ve talked about school and sports, I’ve helped them with assignments, we’ve swapped recipes, and I’ve seen their creations before they vanished. We’ve celebrated birthdays and holidays in our zoom squares. Not ideal, but better than nothing.

For the first time in the history of New Year’s resolutions, we can blame a pandemic for our failures, not ourselves. Except it hasn’t been a total loss. In a weird kind of way, we were actually successful in unanticipated ways and in unexpected quarters.

What we need now is a real Happy New Year.

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