Pandemic Shadow Syllabus

Hi there, and welcome. I know, I also miss the room where the magic happens, the way it used to be with our casual laughter and joy. My students are either disembodied glowing heads or black squares, or bodies with a pair of eyes. I miss your three dimensionality. I miss your laughter. I miss not being afraid when I see a nose. I miss so many things, as I know you do. My deadlines are flexible. Please get tested. I’m so sorry you have a long unnamed illness that has been exhausting you. I’ve done incompletes with other students—yes, we can make this work. I know it’s hard, I’m sorry about your mom. We’re shifting—today we’re outside, tomorrow we’re on Zoom because I can’t breathe, and next week you can attend one of the virtual events I have listed. Are you okay? It’s okay to not be okay. Remember the thread—remember? This is happening at such a crucial stage in your lives. I hope you get some joy in the midst of it. When I see learning happen despite these odd trappings, when I know that you’ve listened, that there’s been enjoyment in reading and thinking, I am stunned. Please look at yourselves—at these projects, these essays. You can’t even begin to know what a miracle this is. The one student that used to hate writing—the joy will fuel me for a year. It’s been so hard. What’s hardest is that I don’t know how to anchor my imagining of our class. The class is now an idea that might have to shift to another dimension or platform with no warning, reacting to invisible air currents and crests of danger we only see afterward in alarming red- and maroon-colored graphs. The class has taken up residence as a hovering cloud that follows me, no longer constrained to this room, and that’s okay. The magic can happen in expanded senses now. But what I think I want to say is I’m sorry. I’m sorry you came into being in a country so fractured, with so many resources at hand but so torn that marshaling those common resources for safety is now beyond our grasp. Never mind the ecosystem destruction and the underpinnings of racism that formed this country. I think I am not allowed to talk about history now anyway, about social change and … okay, enough. In these squares, we are going to rest. And we are going to look at beautiful sentences, and we will read hard essays that carry weight and meaning and history, and their beauty is their carrying capacity. A beautiful sentence carries weight and arrives in the soul. A beautiful sentence can carry the weight of the world without causing its reader pain, can lend the reader a bit of that carrying capacity, so we will make beautiful sentences to carry hard stories. We’ve been assaulted with language and decisions so vile that even these sentences, their continued lines, is a miracle. Yes, I can schedule office hours anytime. It’s going to be okay. I care about you. You’re doing great. You’re real to me, you exist, I exist, it won’t always be like this.

A lit stairwell going down from a darkened room. Along one wall is a triangular shelf full of rows of books.

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