thoughts from my office on Columbus Day

As I walked into the lobby this morning, two library staff members greeted me. “There she is!” and “Welcome back!” were followed by concerned and kind observations that I still look and sound like hell. I didn’t bother with much more than cursory makeup and hair this morning, and I’m wearing jeans, tank top, and cardigan rather than a dress or a jacket. It is, after all, Columbus Day (a holiday not worth celebrating, IMO), an academic break (no classes til Wednesday), and my first day back after a week of unexpected sick leave. It was beyond nice to be greeted so warmly by the people I work with, and also humbling to realize that despite spending four days on the couch and a weekend of living quietly, I’m still not at 100%. I am, apparently, still human. Who knew? The accolades of the past few weeks have been surreal when pasted up against the physical misery of a really bad head cold. In a snarkier moment, I thought that maybe if more biochemists had more affordable access to the premier journal in their field, we could cure the common cold. That’s me, striking a blow against tyranny and the sniffles.

And as I type this, I heard a giant sneeze from the library’s computer lab, right outside my office suite. There aren’t more than 10 people in the building, since it’s break, but apparently one of them’s sick. I am unsurprised, because as I tell anyone who listens, college libraries are petri dishes. A bunch of college students, touching everything, breathing on everything, and on each other, and then we recycle the air and pump it into staff offices? We’re some sort of sick science experiments, and, thus, we get sick. It happens. It comes with the territory.

But coming back to my office after losing a week unexpectedly means trying to figure out where I was… Why is my camera on my desk? (and that explains why I couldn’t find it at home yesterday…) What was I going to do with those travel forms? Which trip was I trying to resolve? What the hell did I mean by the scrawled “online teaching —-> tech —-> basement” on a notecard in front of my keyboard? How old is that travel mug of coffee?

My calendar is full of “TO DO” colored items that I preemptively populated yesterday, many of which say “follow up with X” and “triage Y”, with a handful of “DO” and “FINISH” thrown in. But you can’t do four days of work in one workday, holiday or no. So I’m setting my expectations appropriately. I need to figure out what needs to be done. That’s all. I need to make sure I’ve identified the balls that I dropped, make sure that I know who needs what from me, and when, and figure out when I think I might do those things. That’s all. Just planning. I don’t have to conquer the world, or even my email. I just need to figure out where I stand.

Which reminds me of the poem I heard on the drive to work today, which, apropos of this holiday that I prefer not to celebrate, begins “Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and ends with “when in doubt declare success.”

I showed up today. I’m 99% less sick than I was this time last week. I can figure out where I stand before I leave.


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