Austen Times


Out of the firepan into the fryer, so to speak.

I drove my sister, Bean, and her family to the airport a few days ago. As I crested the hill on the Sepulveda Pass, I realized that it was the first time that I’d been out of the Valley since March. In some ways this was a bit astonishing: in spite of the quarantine and the curfews, I haven’t felt particularly cooped up, and I was amazed to realize how much time had gotten behind me without really noticing it.

Then, the next morning, I woke up to learn that the Sepulveda pass was on fire. So it may be another three months before I cross through it again.

At first, I was a little leery of my sister’s plan to take the whole family on a four-hour plane trip back to the Midwest with a three-year-old and a newborn baby to see my folks who fall into a high-risk age category. I struggled to imagine my three-year-old nephew being willing to sit still and wear your mask and don’t take off your gloves and stop licking the concourse floor for the duration of travel.

And I worried about the newborn who wouldn’t have a mask at all. And my sister and brother-in-law who haven’t been getting much sleep lately. And my folks who were suddenly going to have four new people in the house. But everybody involved in the decision decided it was a calculated risk worth taking: my folks were eager to meet the new grandbaby, and my sister and brother-in-law were struggling to find safe, reliable child-care support here in town. It seemed an obvious choice.

So I gave them a lift to the airport. Their plan is to quarantine for a week or so in the Chicago suburbs after their travel to be sure they didn’t pick up anything from the plane before heading to my folks’ house. In normal times, “A week or so” would have constituted the entire vacation- and quite a long vacation at that. Most years I feel lucky to take a long weekend to visit family before hurrying back to work before my paid time off runs out.

Now, in These Times, everybody is working from home. Which really means they can work from anywhere with a wi-fi connection. Which has really shifted the paradigm. My sister and brother-in-law didn’t even bother to make return plans yet: as far as they know, they’ll be there all summer. Summering in the country like characters from a Jane Austen novel. Keeping a discreet distance from one another. Inquiring about one another’s health.

I’m a little bit envious: a part of me wants to seize upon the opportunity to work-from-anywhere and be able to summer in the Midwest for months on end. But also, I’m still feeling pretty cozy here at home: my garden is coming in nicely, I’m making some good progress on various art projects, and I’ve settled into a reassuringly regular routine of work, exercise, and leisure that I just want to savor while I can.

I fervently hope that this Great Pause will force a sea-change in our working culture that will finally allow us to have enough time to live life around our work: options to work from home, enough vacation time to travel meaningfully, enough leisure time for exercise and recreation. I love being productive, driven, hard-working, but I’m so much happier, healthier, and better balanced since this began that I can only hope I will be able to find ways to hold on to it moving forward.

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on June 11, 2020.

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