The old me?

So, directly after verbosely declaiming all of my pregnancy-related woes last week and bemoaning how much it has changed and will further change my life, I quite ironically fell right back into my well-worn old pattern of daily life the next day. What was that? Fair question. So, my standard pattern of life until 2021 began to unravel precipitously, was to cram work and deadlines and various other things into my days until they were so full as to feel just-about-impossible… somehow crash my way through them… and then feel an immense rush of satisfaction and relief. You can find some examples of this last April and May, which, having just re-read them, are times that I now feel deeply nostalgic for. Look at my chirpy, innocent, zooming-through-life-at-breakneck-speed little self, unaware of the series of un-zoomable challenges about to come her way. Sigh.

Anyway, as I was saying, pretty much immediately after last week’s post, I managed to get myself into a very old-me situation: two good friends asked if I wanted to go away for the weekend for a (casual, relaxed) hike around Lake Garda (home of the stunning vista you can see in the header image, and located only about an hour and a half away from where we live). I already had an imaginary weekend of calmly dealing with some looming work deadlines on various fronts planned in my head, but in true old-me fashion, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have a weekend with my lovely friends (something we used to do much more frequently before so many of us paired off… and before we all had a pretty rough 2021 in various ways, actually – I’m definitely not the only one).

And so that is how on Thursday morning I found myself with a pile of work involving pretty much every aspect of my life with deadlines scattered over the next few days:

  • Teaching: this is the simplest one; I had about 4 hours of teaching to do on Thursday and 6 each on the subsequent Monday and Tuesday, and all of those still needed to be planned and posted to their respective class websites. I also had (still have!) quite the pile-up of papers to grade, but those have been shunted onto… this afternoon! Just directly after this writing break and also cleaning the house and catching up on laundry. Ha.
  • Translating: a bonanza week! I’m a freelance translator, and so it’s a very make-hay-while-the-sun-shines situation, to quote Laura Ingalls Wilder’s father (in The Long Winter, if memory serves). So somehow, I ended up with about 20 hours’ worth of translating work to do with deadlines scattered over Friday, Monday, and Tuesday.
  • Examining: (someday I’ll explain this properly, but I also work freelance administering oral English exams for two different international English certification organizations) wouldn’t you know, one of the companies I work for, from whom I haven’t heard a peep since last spring, decided to schedule their annual standardization task with a Sunday deadline this very week. It involves watching exams for each of the different levels (of which there are twelve… heh) and marking them, to make sure everyone is giving out marks in a fairly standard way. It’s a really great idea, especially since long months can pass in between examining sessions (most are in spring/early summer), but… I might have appreciated it more on a different weekend, to say the least. Anyway. The estimated time for this was 2.5 hours, but you (or at least I) also need to time to review the marking standards and stuff for each level, so… I’d say more like 3-4.
  • Ye olde masters’ degree: am I even still doing that? Why yes! I am! In an extremely half-assed way that I really need to sort out soon, because I really do not plan to still be doing it when this baby is born. The things standing in my way of completing it are two exams (which would not be a big deal if I ever got off my arse and prepared them) and a thesis. Ha. I’ve been making exeedingly slow progress on said thesis over the past few months, but I have at least acquired a supervisor, and come up with a vague game plan with her. The game plan (rather stupidly, on my part) involves collecting actual data. From preschool children. In covid times. Good job, self. I don’t think you could have complicated that any further if you’d tried. So, anyway, the next step was to write a consent form and come up with a list of possible thesis committee members, and I had given myself a deadline of that very same week. Now, is there anything I love more than sticking an arbitrary deadline into the same week as several actual hard deadlines? No. No, there is not, and so that is precisely what I did.

In fact, that’s what I tackled first! So, that basically took up all of Thursday, leaving me to get as much of the rest done on Friday, because I also had the aim of NOT spending this precious friends’ weekend stressing about deadlines. Just for fun, we squeezed in a dinner with the partner’s mother on Thursday night. Yay! Important to honor his mother, too, though, since he is incredibly kind and accommodating about literally everything I have ever wanted to do with my family.

Friday dawned bright and shiny at 6 in order to squeeze in some translating before going to work (I mean, it’s all work, I guess, but I mean physical work as in the classroom). I had two classes to teach separated by four hours, and I managed to do most of my planning for the next week and most of the standardization task during that time. I even (very reasonably!) took about half an hour to walk to an ATM and back for cash for the weekend and acquire lunch on the way back and then heroically charged through another level of the standardization task while scarfing my lunch. (Side note: I found a place that makes avocado toast about a ten minute walk from the office. I never got on the whole avocado toast trend when it was happening, despite technically being a millennial, but now I have tried it and it is freaking delicious. I mean, toast is delicious and avocado is delicious, so I suppose that was predictable, but here we are.)

Anyway. No need for a minute-by-minute description, but suffice it to say that I got through everything, the weekend was lovely (including lakeside strolls, a hike in the mountains above the lake with glorious views thorughout, peant butter and jelly sandwiches at the mid-point, and some soul-restoring time just talking with two good friends), and now I am enjoying the coveted catch-up day: after letting tasks pile up, scribbling them onto today’s page in my planner with abandon throughout the past few days of crunch time, I am finally tackling them one by one. Somewhat more slowly than expected, as is always the case, but here we are.

On another note

This deserves a whole post of its own, really, but who knows when I will ever actually take the time to sit down and write that post. (So many ideas for things to write about swirl around in my head and never make it out onto the page — screen? — and then the moment passes, so this is my attempt to just get it out while the time is right. Or, not completely past, at least. On a related note, this very often happens with commenting on other blogs, too: at any given time, I have about five tabs open with blog entries on which I’d like to comment when I have time to “do it properly”, but then the moment inevitably passes and I comment in batches days or weeks after the fact. Sigh.) So, a week ago today was the anniversary of the Last Normal Day – the day, at least here in Italy, when Covid first snuck its sneaky fingers around us. Looking at the post I wrote about it last year, I think we can definitely say that it held us firmly in its grasp for the entire year after that. Its grip may be loosening slightly now, but I think we can all agree that it has left its mark, in so many ways.

However, that’s not actually what I wanted to say. I thought about the anniversary last Wednesday – February 23rd, and it was very fitting because actually, that very same night, they declared that the state of emergency for the pandemic would end at the end of March. The proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, finally truly in our reach, after so many false starts! I’m not naive enough to fully believe this will be it: I believed that about the vaccines finally becoming available in the first months of 2021, and I had such high hopes for the old “hot vax summer” that seemed to be bandied about on every social media outlet, and now I feel like stubbornly digging my heels in and saying hmph, not going to fool me again.

But anyway, that’s still not what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was that the very next day, I opened up trusty NYT app over my morning coffee, looking out at the sun come up over the field behind my home office and reflecting how nice it was that spring is coming again, and was greeted by the big, bold, all-caps headline that the NYT reserves for truly momentuous news. On this particular morning, the 24th of February, it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine had officially commenced. And my heart sank. A sort of montage in which I imagined Ukraine falling and Russia continuing on into other countries and Europe slowly but surely going to war to stop them played through my mind and the loudest thought in my head was, is this going to be another Last Normal Day? I won’t go into all of the various imaginings I have had since then (my overly-enthusiastic imagination spiral helps no one) but… okay, honestly, I don’t even know what to say here. Who does, really?

I am heartbroken for the Ukrainian people and what they are experiencing now and the lasting damage that is being done to their country. I am scared for what will happen to the world if this continues to escalate, if other countries get involved. But I am also heartbroken for what is being permitted to happen under our very eyes, as a result of other countries not getting involved. I am desperate to help, somehow, anyhow, and of course this month’s donation money from my budget will be going towards whatever helpful cause I can best identify (UNHCR?), and I think I will set aside extra donation money too. I am also heartbroken by the choice of words in so many media outlets: that the news from Ukraine is all the more striking “because they’re just like us/they look just like us/it’s happening in a ‘civilized’ place” (whatever that means), because of the obvious implied contrast. (Are refugees from other places not deserving of our help because they don’t look like us? That’s a pretty ugly line of thought to follow, world.) But even as I believe that in my heart, I can also feel what they mean (giving them the benefit of the doubt): it is particularly jarring to look at the map of where the fighting is. From here in Italy, Ukraine feels not so far away at all. As if, perhaps if you listened hard enough, you could hear the tanks advancing and buildings coming down.

So none of that is said very well, but there is conflict inside and there is conflict outside and there is heartbreak and helplessness and a very real (though admittedly perhaps cowardly) sense of can we (the world, I mean) just have a moment of peace and calm? I suppose even that is a very ignorant and privileged thing to say, because lots of parts of the world have not had peace and calm in much longer than… my lifetime, even?

On Friday, I started both my classes with a lame little speech about feeling the need to acknowledge what was happening before starting class, and an offer to be there for my students if they needed to talk, and to find them any mental health support they might need. One of them wrote me a very heartfelt email and that was nice. I wish I could be of more help to them in processing this, though. Somehow. I wish I could be of help to someone in general, I guess.

It is simultaneously exhausting and humbling to think that a crisis like this makes us all realize how small and insignificant each of our individual lives, with all of their everyday worries and joys, is. But then it’s even more exhausting and beyond humbling because, actually, crises like this are just starting and continuing and marching on all the time in other places of the world that we aren’t even thinking about. That makes everything feel very heavy and impossible. But I guess the only thing we can do is try to find our own little part we can do to help.

As far as I can tell, my own little part is just to donate money where and when I can. Hopefully having the presence of mind to deny myself some meals out or other fun things (and I recognize the irony of saying this at the end of a post in which a weekend trip featured prominently) to divert more money towards good causes. I’ve also revived the Duolingo app on my phone and set it to Ukrainian, on the off chance that refugees arrive in our town and the chapter of the Red Cross where I volunteer is asked to help.

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