Before the pandemic gripped the world, I was already counting the weeks to summer. Since I have a full-time college teaching job and a part-time job for a website, I work seven days a week with no time off for months at a time during the school year. One of the perks of being a teacher is that you get summers off, although I still technically work at my website job and do scholarly research during the summer.
Chicago, which will always be home to me, is very far away from College Town. I usually take a train there and stay at a relative's apartment for a few days during the summer so that I can attend neighborhood festivals, go to museums, eat Chicago-style hot dogs, and yell, "If you try to touch me again, you're going to LOSE that hand, freak show!" at creeps on the El.
However, due to the pandemic, all the Chicago festivals have been cancelled, and the museums have been closed for months. Since it's a big city where the majority of people rely on public transportation, and the streets are typically crowded, I'd basically have to wear a face mask all day. And even though I'd never be one of those people who throw food and scream at workers in grocery stores because they don't want to wear masks, I dislike wearing the masks too. (I still wear a face mask when I'm out in public though because literally every business in College Town prevents people from entering unless their faces are covered.) Also, the relative whose Chicago apartment I stay in while I'm there is a medical professional who treats coronavirus patients on a regular basis, so I don't feel safe going there right now.
I planned to at least get some scholarly research done so that I could finish an article that I've been working on and then try to get it published in a scholarly journal. Academia operates on the "publish or perish" motto, meaning if you don't publish scholarly articles and books, you won't be able to advance in your career. But the library at the college where I teach is still closed for the foreseeable future.
I feel like I've been cheated out of fully enjoying my summer break, but I try not to let it get to me too much. Therefore, I've had to come up with some other ways to fill up my time in College Town. Other than my website job, here is what I've been doing:
1. My gym has been closed for months, so I've been taking long walks outside for exercise almost every day. I usually walk around and around a park near my apartment, keeping track of the number of steps I take on my pedometer, until I get to at least 10,000 steps. I like to listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks (I'm currently listening to Great Expectations by Charles Dickens) on my iPod as I walk. If no one's around, I like to sing along to the music on my headphones. I've been listening to a lot of rap and hip hop lately, so if you see a thirtysomething college professor rapping "Bad and Boujee" by Migos during an early morning walk in the park, that's probably me.
Whenever someone jogs, bikes, or walks by, I quickly step six feet away from them or put my face mask on. I'm not the only one who does this; most of the people in College Town have been careful about social distancing, and some of them will even cross the street to avoid walking on the same sidewalk as others.
But one guy in the park got mad and screamed insults at me when I stepped away from him as he approached in the opposite direction; he must have taken it as a personal rejection. I responded, "I'm social distancing, B--H!" And then I walked backwards for a while so that I could glare at him while holding up a certain finger because you can take the girl out of Chicago, but you can't take the Chicago out of the girl. He didn't bother me again after that.
2. I belong to three different Meetup groups, but they haven't organized any events this summer because of social distancing. Anyway, there are few places we would have been able to go; most of the restaurants and coffee shops in College Town still won't allow indoor dining, even though it's technically allowed now in my state.
Other than using Zoom and texts to communicate with friends, I haven't had any social interaction in months, which is why I've started talking to the animals I see during my walks. I even named the squirrels I saw climbing trees; I gave them names like Lucy, Jimmy, and Thor. There are also geese swimming in a small pond in the park, and I named them too. One of them hissed at me when I got too close, and I responded, "Oh yeah? Well, I don't like you either, Maleficent!" I also now fully understand why Tom Hanks had conversations with the volleyball that he named Wilson when he played that guy who was stranded on a deserted island in the movie Cast Away.
3. I make up stories about the people I see at the park. I often see the same small group of elderly women sitting together at the park, although they sit far away from each other and wear masks while they're talking. I think to myself that maybe they're old friends who've known each other since childhood, a book club, a group of semiretired bank robbers planning one last heist, or a coven of elderly witches who've been inspired by the movie Hocus Pocus to steal the youth of the children at the park.
4. I still can't write in my favorite coffee shops, but I can at least buy coffee and doughnuts to go and bring them home to enjoy as I write at my desk. I've been steadily plugging away at my manuscript, Obsessions of a Workaholic. I'm in the editing stage right now, and I also outlined the structure of my book on note cards that I hung up on the wall next to my desk.
5. My writing space is set up in front of my windows, which face the courtyard down below. My neighbors work out down there sometimes, but two of them like to blast death metal for hours as they work out. The music sounds like howler monkeys screeching at each other while playing the guitar. I opened my windows, put my speakers on the windowsill, and then started blasting "Oops! I Did It Again" by Britney Spears on repeat. The death metal lovers looked up and cringed, and I looked down at them defiantly as if to say, "I've got a lot more Britney where THAT came from!" And then I started doing the "Oops! I Did It Again" dance that Britney did in her video in front of my windows.
For some unknown reason, they no longer work out down there, and I've been able to go back to working in peace (I only listen to Britney on my headphones now. But I WILL blast all of my Britney playlists - yes, I have more than one - if the death metal lovers come back).
6. Although the college library is closed, the public library in College Town is now providing curbside pickup, which has been a godsend because I spent too much time reading toxic b.s. on social media that made me want to throw away my phone and move into the cave that Tom Hanks' Cast Away character lived in so that I don't have to read all the reasons that people hate each other on the Internet. I've read many books since the library reopened for curbside pickup, and it feels good to read something that isn't for work for once.
So, other than reading library books, working at my website job, writing, and walking in the park, it's been a pretty uneventful summer. What about you? What have you been up to this summer?
Interview with… Adam Byatt - Today it’s the turn of Adam Byatt to sit down and share his writing with us. This is my 13th interview, and there are still some wonderful authors to come!...
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