I mentioned on social media last week that in the past several days I’d started many blog posts, all currently residing in the drafts folder, languishing, it could be said, while I try to organize my thoughts enough to finish them.
Each time I open one up to write, the words don’t come. Or, they do come, but they’re trite, silly, words from before. Before we were isolating, sheltering in place, under quarantine and with an extra-large dose of social distancing. It wasn’t that long ago that these words would have been just fine, perhaps even good words, strung together in a blog post about something small, about nothing consequential, and that would have been ok. People would have read the words, maybe enjoyed the words that formed the post, they might have become thoughtful about something I’d written, or they might have smiled or laughed at the words and moved on with their lives. I feel now that these words aren’t right, they aren’t important enough to be said right now. And it’s ok. Honestly.
I have been working from home since Wednesday. But even before that, on Monday and Tuesday of last week, it was hard to focus on the work that needed to be done. Students were sent home from residences, classes moved to online delivery exams were cancelled. The campus felt deserted. Everyone was on edge. What would happen to the library? On Tuesday we spent the morning training on how to do our jobs from our homes. Tools we would use for meetings, for the public services work we normally did face-to-face. And we adapted, and it’s been a seamless move, really, but – and I am sure I’m not the only one to say this – the focus has just not been there.
When we have reference questions, sure, we’re focused and working hard to help the person virtually. And even with check-in meetings with our supervisor and our team, everyone is there, we’re doing ok, we’re getting by. But, as always, the elephant in the room is this: What is happening and when is it going to end. And the answer, of course, is that we just don’t know.
And so the words don’t come in this instance, we just don’t know what to say, so we say those things about coping, about getting by, and when we end the calls we say things like “Stay safe, everyone!” which is not, in case you were wondering, a sign-off greeting we have ever used before in our lives when speaking with co-workers at the end of a day.
And I know there are places and communities where that is a way to sign off a conversation and it’s likely my co-workers also know this and now we are all thinking the same thing – that things are not safe in our world now and how did it come to this. But we don’t say it because the words don’t come. Or they do, but no one wants to be the one to say them. Out loud, anyway.
In my library, we have an archives and that archives is, as are most archives, run by an archivist. On Wednesday morning while we were all struggling with our technology, the resources that were going to help us do our job all alone in our homes, our archivist sent us all a message.
She told us she was going to be keeping a journal of this time. A document that outlined her day-to-day existence under self-isolation. Things like her daily routine, the weather, challenges and successes with work, reactions to the news, grocery lists and costs, etc. etc. Anything at all, really. And she encouraged us to do the same. Documentation of crises all through history has been crucial to understanding regular people living through difficult times, and whether it’s through poetry or letters or journals, the experiences are important. And they are necessary. And they should be documented.
I emailed her back right away and told her to count me in. I told her that I too would keep a journal of all of these things, these thoughts and feelings, these challenges and fears, and by sending that email I had found the words. And not only that, I understood that the words are important, even the trite and the silly. They are human, and they need to spill out in a format of our choosing to be documented. I hesitate to say documented for future generations but that’s exactly what this is. How will people in twenty or fifty years understand if we don’t actually tell them?
In the days, months, and years to come, there will be a LOT written about the pandemic. Government officials, healthcare professionals, researchers and scientists, economists, financial experts and others will be weighing in with their expertise.
Maybe we should all weigh in too.