Like most other academics, I’ve spent the last ten weeks thinking a lot about productivity and bemoaning what feel like the inexplicable challenges of focusing and gathering data or producing scholarship. The closure of the library, an unavoidable necessity, means that we are largely limited to digital resources, and this deepening of our reliance on screens adds to the new levels of exhaustion that seem so specific to Zoom and Skype. (Why I am so constantly exhausted is another question entirely, privileged as I am to be situated with absolute freedom over my time and very few obligations. But I think many are feeling the same.) Our relatively safe and comfortable situation at ANAMED, however, has meant that I—and others—have had ample opportunity to cultivate other practices and means of reducing stress. The ANAMED Yarn Club is missing two of its founding members but continues enthusiastically in its new home at Second Floor North. Feeling the need for more meditative production that required quiet focus, I ordered some local fabric and took up the challenge of hand-sewing masks. Unsurprisingly, this turned out to be far too time-consuming for mass production, but several of the remaining fellows did participate in a Sew-Your-Own-Mask workshop during some beautiful weekend weather on our terrace. Everyone has walked away (or will soon walk away) with a functional mask, so I’m checking off the event as a success!
An outing in handmade masks (photo courtesy of Nergis Günsenin)
Everyone’s need for joyful distraction was confirmed by the community’s response to two kittens we fostered in early May. Found on the street by our very own Milan, with one sibling requiring intensive eye-drop therapy, we received permission to construct a cat house and host the younglings on the terrace. Much to our consternation, they quickly discovered that the terrace’s built-in bench and planter structure offered preferable—truly palatial—accommodation. Aggressive food bribery allowed us to continue the much-hated eye drops, however, and our small patient made a very quick recovery. More often than not, a fellow or member of staff could be found by the end of the benches, luring the kittens out for play-time, meals, cuddles, and general tomfoolery. Investment in the little ones’ well-being seemed to provide a much-needed outlet for everyone’s nervous energy, and the whole building was sad to see them leave (though relieved that their departure was to loving, adoptive homes).
Kittens discover the infinite joys of dripping water and human hands
In this spirit, what has been most memorable—and wonderful—about our sheltering here at ANAMED is the continuation of the community we have all enjoyed so much. Many fellows de-camped to more permanent homes when the situation began to worsen, but our communications continue. A consistent cast of characters attends our virtual Friday Teas, and a chorus of excited greetings meets every new person who logs into the Zoom. Bianca sends us frequent updates and photos from Vienna, and Jeff reminds us all that the weather could be much colder (and the nature more wild) with pictures from his hikes in Alaska. In the building, as around the world, cooking and baking projects have taken on a new level of investment and complexity. It’s not uncommon to finish one’s own dinner, only for a 10pm knock on the door to bring a dish of food, cookies, or slices of cake. Intellectual production challenges us all, but some form of production is needed to keep worry and uncertainty at bay. Having a community, physically and virtually present, to share this with has been a great privilege.
Nergis Hoca enjoys a slice of community cake.
—Catherine Steidl, Post-Doctoral Fellow, 25 May 2020