Of sitting and standing
I have never liked, nor really been able to perform, hour-long sitting. Actually, if there is one thing I hated in school, it’s the sitting. Inevitably, your back aches, your belt hurts, you fall asleep, you can’t help but concentrate on a minor detail at the blackboard or in the hair of the person sitting right in front of you, your bottom becomes a pain too, you cross your legs one way, then the other, you focus on the thousand ways in which the chair is uncomfortable (too hard, too thin, too unstable…). I don’t know who came up with the idea that sitting all day long was the best way to learn or work for not-blue collars, but they should have stayed in bed the day they came up with that one. Hour-long sitting is pretty inevitable in academic professions where it is the main social convention that when one gets together, one sits together. While I get that you really need to sit at a table to work on archive materials, there are not that many other activities that justify it fully. You can have your laptop placed on a higher table and type without having to sit. You can discuss serious matters standing, or better yet: walking. I love teaching because I don’t have to sit when I teach, and I try to get the students to move too (thankfully, I teach small groups). I hate that the more responsibilities you have in an academic career, the more you have to remain seated for hours. The problem is neither the computer, nor the monitor, nor the chair, nor whatever it is you blame it on: sitting all day is just wrong.
Since I have decided to try and figure what there is to be grateful for in these times of confinement, not having to sit is one of the top points. I stand when I have breakfast alone in the kitchen at 7:30, I stand when I read books, I stand up to fetch tea even more often than usual, I even found a solution for standing during a particularly long videoconference meeting: I switched off the camera, stretched my legs while still listening, took my laptop to higher shelf showing to a decent background, turned my camera on again and finished the meeting standing.
Another thing I figured out I should be grateful for is watching the grass grow. I have had to replant some grass in my garden, that was growing bold here and there. I did it wholeheartedly, yet totally unprofessionally, inefficiently and unevenly. It is quite some fun to watch my clumsy plantings grow. I also found other seeds in the basement which I am not really sure will grow anything, but I water them together with the grass. There is one thing about grass: you can actually watch it grow, little by little. First a little spike of green on the brown earth, then a whole carpet progressively growing larger. I reckon this is some way of measuring time. Also, my garden is so small that I don’t have to mow the lawn with a lawnmower: I do it by hand. Which also is a measure of time, somehow.
And I am, of course, right now, grateful for Easter break, where I did not have to do any homeschooling and could concentrate on some of my own business. I tweeted about #MeAt20 and blogged about it (in French). I wrote a piece (also in French) on my University website trying to think constructively about next term (and the terms after that) in consideration of what European mobility could become. I walked to the university for the lunch box distributions, 45 minutes each way, discovering new streets, getting lost (like I always do) in spite of googlemaps and although I was quite well oriented, listening to birds, and seeing children play in front yards or on sidewalks. I wrote a grant application with which I hope to improve the evaluation system we are suffering from (yes, I am that much of an idealist). And I figured what I should read next: E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Fantasiestücke, which are on the program of the French agrégation for 2 years from 2011 on, as was announced last week – a unique occasion to teach something I know and like to the best possible German Studies audience in a French context.
This will be 2021, new teaching challenges. I have already given up on 2020, to be true, and am getting ready for online teaching in the fall. But thinking about 2021, I imagine it is a time we can do something about, a time we can do things differently. A time to stand instead of sitting, but as a statement.