Monastic Life (Plague, Day 68, May 12, 2020)

As we move into the second month of the shutdown and social distancing, our daily routines around work, exercise, and food are becoming more and more rigid. We’re more independent from schools and jobs. Steve’s hair is growing to Cast Away lengths. Zoom happy hours with friends have lost their novelty, so we’re losing contact with the outside world.

In an effort to undo the first few weeks of breads, baking, and cocktail hours of this pandemic, I have been logging every morsel into an iPhone app, Noom. And that, too, has lead to more rigidity. Oatmeal and banana for breakfast. Whole grain bread and deli meat for lunch. Apple and tea and one cookie for afternoon snack. and so on.

My reading habits are largely driven by the sale section at the iBooks book store. I like cheap books. A couple of weeks ago, I downloaded Pillars of the Earth, a novel set in 12-century England. One of the main characters is a Benedictine monk, and the author provides rich descriptions of monastic life.

Our lives do feel very monastic at the moment. Oatmeal and grainy bread. Everybody spends hours industriously on individual computers screens. With vows of silence, the only noise comes from the tv which is permanent set on CNN.

While there is something zen about this simple life, it doesn’t feel terribly healthy either. I live in a densely packed area of the country with lots of friends and family. I am blessed to normally have an abundance of opportunities for amusements and social life. We’re not built for this spartan lifestyle. So, we’re trying to find a way to make our weekends a little less monk-like.

This weekend, Steve, Ian, and I drove into New York City to visit a Fort Tryon Park, which surrounds The Cloisters, a museum composed of ancient European monasteries. Yes, monks again. It was our first trip into Manhattan in two months. The park was bursting with flowers and life. Even though I lived a block away from that park for 14 years, the masked people made the place foreign. It was unsettling.

Right now, as I’m typing, the Senate is talking to Anthony Fauci about his views about opening up society. He fears a fall outbreak. Will schools and college open up this fall? Will Steve go back to work? A vaccine may be a year or two away.

How long can you keep this up? Are you all doing okay?

19 thoughts on “Monastic Life (Plague, Day 68, May 12, 2020)

  1. I find it interesting that you are becoming more structured, without the interference of the outside world. We are becoming less structured, with, say two baths a day for some of us, and pajamas all day for others. I am eating less, since I have realized that my favorite way to eat is to have others serve me food. Food seems less worth it when it requires me to assemble (and I don’t even cook) and clean afterwards.

    I am doing OK. But although my life has not changed that much, I am feeling the weight of the days and I am worrying about other people.

    And, I think there has to be more discussion about how we move forward. There’s a hope in WA that we will continue to see cases decrease to a level that can be managed by current testing capacity and tracing. But if we are not able to get to that level with current distancing measures (which are pretty stringent) we will need other models. This level of distancing is not sustainable indefinitely (though the tech workers have been told they can work at home through October now).


  2. Husband took two big kids to church on Sunday. 25% capacity (which is the maximum allowed) is something like 40 people. Husband and the kids wore masks, sat in the narthex/vestibule and changed clothes when they came home. You have to sign up in advance. There weren’t a lot of people there wearing masks. We’re not taking the 1st grader, as she can’t remember not to touch things and not to touch her face.

    We’re doing some educational testing for the 1st grader right now. The entire office support staff is masked up (aside from the usual interior glass windows). There was one other family there today, up from nobody last week when we were there. The 1st grader and I also changed clothes when we got home.

    We’ll have our youngest doing 6 hours a week of therapy for the summer, unless there’s some sort of nasty local surge. She might possibly also get one week of camp in July, but I’m not counting on it, as the location is still closed.

    There’s a lot of traffic on the road right now. There were huge drive thru lines at Starbucks and the local donut place today.

    Our 12th grader took an AP exam at home today, which was weird. In less than two weeks, school will be ceremoniously dropping off diplomas at the seniors houses, on the Saturday that would have been the May graduation. (There’s some hope of a “real” graduation in June–perhaps at a drive-in movie theater.) The 9th grader is doing a really loud Zoom workout right now. We have less than 2 weeks of school left, at which point I’m going to have to start thinking about what we do with the 1st grader, who (much as I whine about it), does benefit from the structure of the homeschool day. A lot of the usual summer resources we depend on for the 1st grader are going to be unavailable and/or unsafe for the time being.

    I won’t say that this is normal, exactly, but it’s more post-apocalyptic/futuristic than monastic.


  3. My evil husband baked bread this morning, then, as I was slobbering over it, said “Oh, I bought you some Nutella.” ARGH. I allow myself to eat Nutella only when I am in Europe. Obviously, in a pandemic, there are no rules….


    1. Wendy said, “My evil husband baked bread this morning, then, as I was slobbering over it, said “Oh, I bought you some Nutella.” ARGH. I allow myself to eat Nutella only when I am in Europe. Obviously, in a pandemic, there are no rules….”

      Hey, as I’ve learned from listening to my 12th graders Zoom discussion of The Road, the important thing is not to commit cannibalism.


      1. Wendy wrote, “Amy, cannibalism is not a problem. My husband and son are tall and gangly, and would probably get stuck in my teeth.”

        That’s good!


    2. “I allow myself to eat Nutella only when I am in Europe.”

      We got some creamy Jif recently, so consider it an exchange.


      1. Hi Doug! Feeling better? Any time you want peanut butter or maple syrup, I will send you some. 😀

        Amy, cannibalism is not a problem. My husband and son are tall and gangly, and would probably get stuck in my teeth.


      2. Hi Wendy! Yes, better, thanks! Still not full functional, but the indicators are all pointing in the right direction. Needless to say, I am very grateful for the social distancing that kept Berlin’s hospitals from being overwhelmed when I needed them.

        Thanks also for the peanut butter and maple syrup offer! I had hoped that some family members would bring some Jif when they visited this spring, but the virus scotched that. KaDeWe only carries it sporadically, though I keep looking. We found a British vendor on Amazon who will sell two one-pound jars for €22 or one jar for €20. Commerce is weird


      3. When we were in Switzerland in the early 90s we found peanut butter in the health food stores next to the almond butter and walnut butter, by the time we left in 94 the Migros was carrying it. Migros was also where every mid-November a big freezer case of turkeys appeared… Geneva had a LOT of Americans.


      4. But do they carry Jif? Because that’s what choosey mothers choose (I will admit that I do not eat anything but Jif, and, really want crunchy jif). Crunchy Jif is currently not available in our stores, though we are still able to find creamy jif.


      5. Yes, exactly about the creamy Jif. I could easily find healthy, organic peanut butter. That’s not what the situation calls for.

        As a legacy of the occupation, the Munich area had plenty of turkeys available in November. We eventually found that one of the downtown poultry butchers had cultivated sources that raised them to be available fresh in time for the American holiday. Now that we’re too far away from the Viktualienmarkt, I’ve found an online market that does the same, sourcing from small and regional farms. We’re not going back to frozen any time soon!


  4. Certainly not monastic with CNN running on background. That would be an interesting monastery.


  5. I just found out that our city is cancelling all summer camps.

    So, no suspense there!

    It looks like there’s going to be a refund.


  6. I heard through the grapevine that Hometown U.’s fall enrollment is still a bit down, but summer enrollment is up 3X as high as normal.


  7. I just turned in grades for the semester, which involved positively dragging some students over the finish line and giving others incompletes in hopes of dragging them over the finish line later. There are always some I worry about, but it was worse this year, of course. I am pulling together our department’s Sp21 schedule without having any idea what format our F20 courses will be in. Also I am obsessively reading the Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed and everything else I can to try to come up with ideas to funnel to our Faculty Senate and president about what we should do to keep our institution alive.

    But I am also binging Netflix and Amazon Prime (Upload, with Dead to Me up next) with my boyfriend and cooking a lot (blueberry scones that were about 1/3 butter and an anchovy tomato sauce are two new recipes this week), and doubling the size of my garden.

    In the halfway work halfway fun department I am working on a podcast segment for a series our college is doing on different disciplinary approaches to the pandemic, continuing to develop a website to host research from a class I taught, and starting Harvard’s free online computer science intro course. It sounds fun, and a good thing to try because it will be frustrating and out of my comfort zone – and thus helpful to me in understanding how my students feel when they try to take my vastly less fancy online courses.

    Nutella is a great pandemic food. Also I just heard of a good banana bread recipe with Nutella.


    1. “Also I just heard of a good banana bread recipe with Nutella.”

      SHARE. Please?

      I am still 12 days, 40 final papers, 65 final exams and 5 Honors Theses away from handing in final grades, so I am very jealous. My brain keeps bouncing around because grading sucks. I put romance reading on hold and inhaled the entire Murderbot series, including the new novel, in about a week.

      I am grading a bunch of papers now that are clearly self-plagiarized. The citations always give them away….

      I came across this and thought it to be an important consideration in fall teaching:


      1. Here’s the nutella banana bread recipe:

        I haven’t tried it yet but the reports are good.

        Yikes, that’s a lot of grading. Good luck. I was lucky; this semester I had more administrative responsibilities so the teaching load was lighter. I did two rounds on a just-barely-in-time-but-excellent-potential master’s thesis and it took ages, though it was fun.

        Yes, when someone turns a paper in and all the access dates are from last December, that’s a good clue to self-plagiarism.


      2. Oh wow, that banana bread looks awesome.

        I too have administrative responsibilities (spent half my afternoon dealing with a problem that wasn’t a problem, so … waste of time). I’m working my way through one thesis now (I’m on page 33 of 44–I make detailed specific stylistic comments, so it takes forever), then I will work on some of the papers. I also need to check into discussion in one of the classes. Maybe watching Snowpiercer last night was a bad idea. (Note: I am enjoying Bong Joon-ho’s movies a lot; this was our third, the others being Parasite, of course, and The Host. I freaking love Song Kang-ho.)


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