Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - March 27, 2020


One reason I so quickly embraced husband Art's and my "shelter-in-place" experiment was to see how it would affect us. Art suggested it after he listened to periodic British Broadcasting Corporation interviews with a young man living in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. The young English teacher described how his outlook changed as the days of confinement added up. In broad terms, it shifted from being a novelty to an inconvenience to the "new normal." Thoughts of his once-daily stop at a coffee shop created two quite different feelings after his long quarantine. One was a yearning to do it again, while another was a sense of disbelief that he had done it at all.

Our quarantine hasn't had much of an impact on Art. He can "hole-up" for days, never even stepping outside, yet not feel "stir-crazy." He is much like his mother was - enjoying getting out and about, but not feeling penned in by the walls of their homes.

Since Art has now worked by himself for years, he is accustomed to solitary pursuits. Some years ago, Art was scheduled to take a business trip at the same time the girls and I were traveling with my sister Gaila and her daughters. His trip was called off at the last minute, but he didn't tell anyone except me. He went out only at night and never to a public place so he could preserve the notion of being gone. He said it was a wonderful time which he used for certain computer projects that required unusual focus.

But despite being an introvert, I'm having a bit more trouble with the isolation. I'm used to intermittent spurts of time with family, friends, students and colleagues. My calendar is usually filled to the max with classes, appointments, event-planning tasks, coffee dates, lunches and other activities.

The news that a faculty colleague is in intensive care with COVID-19 has also added a real sadness and worry and brought it closer to home. Another which added to those feelings was the emergency return to the States of a student I know who had hoped to spend the semester studying in Ireland.

A touch of melancholy has also crept in as I had not imagined ending my teaching career banned from the campus I had inhabited for almost 40 years. I spent several hours last Friday at my office going through files, sorting items into "keep, shred, recycle and toss" piles. Then I gathered materials to take so I could work at home. Art helped me load three boxes and six bags into our van and my car.

But before I left, I took a moment to sit in my office chair, studying the details of the place I have called my "home-away-from-home" for so many years. There were photos of family and friends and framed posters of the Flint Hills, the First Amendment, and the front page of the 1896 The Students' Herald - the predecessor of the current student newspaper. There was a collection of coffee mugs from various conventions I attended, decorative boxes from Bolivia and Costa Rica, magnets on my file cabinets, old cameras and yearbooks perched on the wooden file cabinet I rescued from the basement of Kedzie Hall. Here and there, faux succulents and forsythia decorated my otherwise functional space.

Going through the folders I took will keep me occupied for awhile at home as will working "remotely" with students and faculty whose lives have also been turned upside down.

But turning on the TV when Art is gone hasn't been the companion I had hoped for because the news is filled with stories about the virus. It adds an element of dread, and that isn't what I need when I am also feeling isolated. I've never been that excited about most TV programs anyway, other than the international mysteries, comedies and documentaries we find on PBS and BBC. Luckily, our friend Jay loaned us several DVDs a few weeks ago from the British series "Inspector Morse." But we'll soon burn through those and I'm going to have to find other things to do.

One of those happened Saturday when I decided to transform daughter Mariya's old bedroom into my "home office." We still had a computer desk there, so I quickly cleaned off the shelves to make room for my work computer and monitor. Dusting them led to dusting the ceiling fan and soon I was taking the curtains down and washing them, washing the windows and sills, vacuuming and so on.

My cleaning frenzy reminded me of a cartoon daughter Katie recently sent me. It describes how people stuck at home are adapting - sleeping a lot, restless pacing, cleaning and re-decorating, feeling "out-of-body," finding new things to do.

I told Katie I�ve felt all those things at some point.

By the end of the day, I was tired, but after moving the stuff I brought home into the freshly-cleaned space, it felt good - as if I had accomplished something.

Another thing that sustains me is daily or several-times-a-day updates from family and friends in the U.S. and abroad. Saturday, while I was touching base with one person, Art was exchanging messages with some people from Syria who have lived in France for some time and own a restaurant. Art asked if it was hard with the business being closed, but Jennie said it was a blessing for her and Tony to be able to spend so much time with their two girls. Messages such as these, jokes, funny memes, and a video of a young man playing his cello on a Venice canal with not another person in sight all warm my heart.

So, we're adapting. But I haven't yet forgotten what it was like to be out and about. Maybe next week?

A visit to campus. Top: the parking lot. The red arrow points to my space where so often I have had to have vehicles removed; bottom-left: normally busy hallway near my office door; bottom-center: no need to dress up to go to my office as there was no one around; bottom-right: my office is beginning to look bare to me, but when Art looked at the picture, he remarked his office wasn't that full at any time during his tenure as a professor.

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