I never remember if “future” has an “e” at the end or not. In French, the language that I first learned to spell in, the word doesn’t have an “e” and like apartment or literature, I always remember the French spelling and not the English; this is when the red underline is helpful for me.
The future. We’re slowing down, there’s time to reflect and not just react, react, react. But it’s still hard to think about the future when the present is so uncertain, and when it is certain, it can be terrifying. Deaths. Unemployment. Colleges and universities shutting down, declaring financial exigency, rescinding job offers, furloughs, not-renewed contracts, even firings. Myself, we have been reassured that our institution is committed to not letting anyone go, despite this online transition costing the institution millions.
Businesses all around us are shutting down, probably permanently. A major hotel around the corner from us (relatively speaking) is shuttering, and I am sure that the mall will be a much different place when it finally reopens to the general public. Social distancing has turned into stay-at-home orders turned into curfews will probably turn to mandatory masks which may or may not lead to quarantines. Schools shut down for the foreseeable future. All of us at home, together, for how long, we don’t know.
We carry on, make no plans beyond what is necessary, or at least seems necessary in the moment, setting up webinars and trainings and consults and programming, helping my kids learn, reaching out to friends, keeping tabs, keeping sane, keeping alive. I nag my editors because when this all ends, I want my books to be a part of the world after the pandemic, irregardless of what it looks like. I write these blog posts, in part to try and make sense of what is happening, but also in the hopes that there will be future historians looking themselves to make sense and understand what happened, what is happening right now.
I hear students, hear faculty saying that we should just give up on the 2019-2020 academic year, that it is unimportant in this moment whether or not we met the learning outcomes and goals. Which is in one sense true, but in another sense somewhat short-sighted because there will be an after-this-moment where meeting the learning outcomes is required, is necessary. What if it is decided that it is all in fact arbitrary, and thus permanently unnecessary?
Because it is all arbitrary, isn’t it? Well, no, not really, there is knowledge that can and should be known, there are values and skills that we want to have, to learn. Can all of this be done at home, alone? Do we want it done that way? How do we argue that schooling, post-secondary in particular, is important, should be supported, after decades of erosion of public support? The house of cards comes tumbling down.
And maybe it should, one would argue, and we can build something better! But in the meantime, it is those who are most vulnerable who will suffer the most. The revolution is always distributed unevenly. My kids will be fine, more likely than not. We, our family, will be fine. We will probably, hopefully, be involved in the rebuilding if one occurs. But not everyone will be so lucky, so privileged, and instead be further excluded and marginalized, further made to suffer.
That some may, inevitably, regrettably, suffer isn’t an argument for the status quo, but instead a reminder that for all those who do see this as an opportunity, there are those who will not, will never benefit, just in potentially different ways that they do and and cannot in the present moment. I don’t know how we move forward, but eventually we must, and we have to do better.
I could never imagine my life past 40, in part because of ADHD time, in part because I was sure that I wasn’t going to make it that far. It was so distant and inconceivable and foreign. And when I did make it to 40, the life I was living was in fact distant and inconceivable and foreign, but in all the right ways, instead. I made the mistake of starting to look forward, to the kids graduating college, to moving up in a role, to writing, more writing, to taking over my own center, to finally getting a place by the water.
Now, that seems distant and inconceivable and foreign again. I now see a possible future where I can’t attend my own parents’ funeral, where I’m not allowed back to Canada again to see my friends and family. That there won’t be any institution or center for me to eventually run, no place for my kids’ to study, no jobs available to them if and when they graduate. It is extreme, but these potential futures keep me going, if only to work to mitigate and even avoid them alltogether.
For a long time, I couldn’t think of the future. Now, it’s all I can think about.
I’m not sure which one was worse.