I Am Not This Butterfly

I am not this butterfly. This butterfly woke up today after spending a restful 7 months in a cocoon. It is beautiful, bright, refreshed, and eager to get on with its life.

Not me.

Lately I’ve been pondering—What will life look like next month? Next fall? Next year? This is a question I'm asking my students to reflect on this week as our semester on Disability & Epidemics nears its end. It's a question I've been thinking about more and more, myself. Here I sit, more than a year into the pandemic, and approaching a year into my abrupt transition from a full-time position to frantically working several part-time jobs to keep myself and my family afloat, while also launching this passion project to bring a humanistic lens to our understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are lots of very good things happening in my life right now, and this week I’m going to receive my second vaccination. The signs are pointing towards sunnier days ahead, and yet right now, I am having a hard time relating to this butterfly. Even my beautiful blossoming garden has kept me wary. I find that I cannot enjoy it without a touch of trepidation that a hard frost might come along at any moment and destroy it all. The past year has been like that.

Some have predicted that what will follow will resemble a 1920s-type boom in culture, music, arts, and revelry like we experienced at the end of the Great Influenza Pandemic and the end of WWI.

Maybe my mood is an expected slump, an inevitable collapse in spirit that comes from knowing that finally it may be safe enough to feel some of the trauma of this past year.

I'm really noticing the ways that academia pushes people on the margins out of its spaces entirely. I have not had the time, energy, or desire this past year to attend many conferences, even virtually, and I've had to stop accepting requests to review journal articles. The gender gap in publishing is something that has already been well-documented, but as one half of a lesbian couple, those gender analyses never quite sit right with me. It’s not just the division of household labor that keeps women behind, it’s the fact that raising kids-even under ideal circumstances-takes an incredible amount of labor, period, even when there are two moms. Keeping up with folks who devote their entire lives to their profession is something I couldn’t do even if I wanted to.

In pandemic times all of this has been exacerbated by about 1000 times. I weigh each ask against the material and emotional realities of my existence—Will I be paid? Will I have the time, energy, and focus to do this? There are deadlines looming that I know I'll probably miss--at least in part because these are not things I have institutional support to do right now, but also because the time I do have that isn’t devoted to paid work is time I need to refresh in order to do the work that pays me. I garden, I clean up and order my space, I zone out in front of a mindless television show. Really though, most of what little "free" time I have is spent parenting a very smart and intense school-aged child who is busy trying to grow up during all of this (*waves hands*), with very little access to the things we all had grown accustomed to having for support--friends, family, school, childcare (just to name a few).

As vaccination rates rise, as the pandemic slowly begins to wane, I see many people jumping back into the “rat race” (did they ever leave it?). But I don't feel an overwhelming sense of pent-up energy that I’m just waiting to let loose, to gather with everyone for a reunion, to laugh and eat and drink. I don't really feel like celebrating. Instead, I feel like I want to go retreat to a quiet, secluded cabin--far, far away from noise, people, and from work.

How are you all feeling as the summer approaches and the pandemic begins to recede?

#AfterlivesOfPandemics #COVID19 #PublicHumanities #MedicalHumanities #PandemicFatigue

[Image description: A black butterfly with orange, yellow and blue dots hangs from the inside of its netted enclosure.]

(Jessica Martucci)