[Before I begin this mostly self-focused blog post, I want to acknowledge that the coronavirus pandemic has affected so many people more than me. My heart goes out to all who are sick, suffering, or have died, and to their friends and families. I want to thank all those responding to the crisis and making sure people’s needs are met. You are appreciated.]
I have tried to exercise outside at least once per day the last few weeks. I make sure to stay away from other walkers and runners–many of whom are probably like me and only recently re/discovered how much they love exercising outdoors. Trapped inside while attempting to social-distance makes exercising outside a wonderful breath of fresh air, a brief moment away from the attempt to do remote work amidst the steady stream of anxiety-producing news about the virus.
In the last couple weeks, there have been a number of sidewalk chalk messages along my favorite running route. One of the messages was “be gentle with yourself.” Recently, I have found my mind—and my feet—returning to that piece of advice.
A few weeks ago, our Praxis Team was struggling. The coronavirus pandemic had recently begun escalating rapidly in the United States and institutions like UVa were taking necessary precautions. These changes affected Praxis. We would no longer be able to meet in-person as a team. We would no longer be able to publicly present our findings at an in-person gathering in May. Many of us were struggling to remain focused on remote work. How could we continue doing schoolwork when the world outside seemed to be crumbling? Frankly, what was the point?
Thankfully, our outgoing project manager Chloe recognized how people were feeling. Near the beginning of our first Zoom meeting, Chloe encouraged us to have a short meeting and take the rest of the week off from Praxis. Chloe may not have used the same words as my sidewalk messenger, but she might as well have. Be gentle with yourselves, she seemed to be saying.
The week off was helpful. Though the tragedy and the stress remain present, the shock had at least worn off. When we returned, we needed to figure out how to move forward. What elements of our project did we want to prioritize and what elements should we let go of?
Our first time reconvening after the break was to meet with Barbara Brown Wilson and Alissa Diamond. They are two incredibly smart scholars who have thought a lot about space, Charlottesville, property, and equity. They had agreed to meet with us before the pandemic, and they generously agreed to keep the meeting, now to be held over Zoom. While I was glad they could still meet, I couldn’t help but wonder—how helpful will this meeting be considering our new circumstances? Would it be better to get our own ducks-in-a-row first?
To my surprise, the meeting was exactly what we needed. Our guests gave us some excellent feedback about our project. Alissa Diamond even generously offered to share some of her findings from the UVa Library’s now-closed Special Collections. I was especially appreciative of Barbara Brown Wilson’s words that all good scholars have to constantly adjust the scope of their projects. Narrowing the scope of our project was not a sign of failure. Again, the sidewalk messenger seemed to call out, “be gentle with yourself.”
I am unsure of what the next six weeks will look like. As a Praxis Team, we still want to accomplish a version of what we set out to create. We know our project likely won’t look the same as what we dreamed of creating a few months ago. But we are resolved to be ok with that. As the first bullet point in the Charter we created last fall reminds us, we value “process over outcome.”
Even though yesterday’s rain washed away the chalk, I want to continue returning to my sidewalk message. In this time of tragedy, we could all use with the reminder to be gentle with ourselves and each other.