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The Dreaded Return to Normal

I’m dreading the societal “return to normal,” but of course, it’s already started. I don’t have a bone in my body that is looking forward to the thought of completely face to face classes with no expectation of masks and uncertainty as to who in the vicinity might be unvaccinated or otherwise especially vulnerable. (That is how my return to school stands at the moment, but there is always the hope that things will change in the intervening month.)

I am far from the first person to bring up the improvements in access and other pleasant things implemented during the pandemic, and likewise not the first person to mourn their (largely) being taken away in the overall attempt to “return to normal,” but it bears repeating.

One of the things that stick out to me are of course hybrid style classes— where half of the time is spent in person and half is spent virtually— which were incredibly useful to many of the commuters and nontraditional I talked to last school year, as well as to those of us who respect the value of a good night’s sleep, and/or occasionally forget to set our alarms.

Another is the takeout dining option that existed for the first time in my school’s nearly 100-year history. I and many other students hope it gets to stay, for a variety of reasons— classes during the lunch hour, classes immediately after dining opens for dinner, wanting to study in silence while you eat, et cetera. Should this option stay, I also hope that the boxes and cutlery will be switched to something more sustainable than Styrofoam and plastic.

But there’s seemingly smaller things, too, and they’re not all related to school.

For instance, there is the common presence of a bottle of hand sanitizer inside the doors of public spaces. I have a particular fondness for them, as someone who is now acutely aware of the sheer number of things that take up residence on my wheelchair wheels (and that I therefore touch) after swabbing my handrims for a Genetics class lab. I also like to wipe down my phone with it after seeing the Petri dishes belonging to some of my classmates.

There is also the observation that occurred during a conversation with one of my friends while we were waiting for our lunch orders to be called. Will food service workers continue to wear masks? It seems like a good idea, as far as sanitation goes, both in terms of the food, as well as the people making and eating it.

I still find it unsettling to eat in a restaurant, or in large crowds of people— one reason I wonder about the dining hall situation at school . (I know I did it that one time in April; I was deeply nervous that I had messed up for a good while afterwards, and even beforehand part of me thought it might be a bad idea, seeing as I was only halfway vaccinated.) Now, with all the changing information about variants and vaccines’ resistance to them, I’ve decided that it’s best not to risk it unnecessarily. Takeout exists.

The final thing that I value from this period that I hope (but I do not expect) will stick around is the existence of the free online event. The beauty of the free online event is that it opens up a huge range of possibilities for how to spend your time. It essentially boils down to the sheer number and variety of things you have access to, with the caveats of availability and quality of captioning, and due consideration of time zones— I mention the former because it is a minimum barrier to entry for a great many people that is not always provided, and the latter because it is a very easy mistake to make on the part of the attendee. (I may or may not be speaking from personal experience.)

I very highly recommend scrolling through your event ticket platform of choice (for me, Eventbrite) with the location set to Online and the price set to Free, and see what catches your attention. Another method is to peruse Twitter with a watchful eye toward registration links. This is how I found myself attending a talk located a significant distance away about queer neurodivergent wizards in literature— I clearly know how to spend a Friday evening.

With that, I leave you to whatever “normal” is going to be. Stay well.

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