Coping with COVID-19

cat watching a computer screenWell. Here we are, halfway through the spring semester, with in-person instruction suspended until at least April 10, and with most law school faculty and staff directed to work remotely.

This isn’t at all where any of us thought we’d be at this point in the semester. We’re obviously not alone; across the country, law professors and law students are adjusting to a new reality, not just with our legal teaching/learning lives but also with our personal lives. Gyms, bars, restaurants, public libraries, sporting events, concerts—all closed or cancelled with the list growing by the minute.

In such a fluid situation, it feels difficult to keep up with the latest news, cancellations, and closings. Such a fast-paced, ever-changing situation raises anxiety, particularly for those of us who like to pride ourselves on being in control of the situation (or at least believing we are in control of the situation). And there are lots of us like that in the law school—faculty and students.

In this situation, none of us has control. That feels scary.

Teams of administration, faculty, and staff have been working throughout the last week to make sure that we’re addressing the changing circumstances (for example, first by restricting visitors to Eckstein Hall and now by closing the building) and that we’re prepping to provide instruction to students even if we’re not going to do so in-person. For example, the legal writing faculty have been tinkering around together (remotely) on various platforms to brainstorm the best ways to deliver our classes online. We all want to do our best for our students, even if that “best” right now is going to look different than it might have under normal circumstances.

A lot of patience and a little good humor will go a long way as we navigate this difficult and uncertain period. To that end, I’ve asked some colleagues and students to share what they’re doing to adjust to our new learning environment, what they’ve learned by being stuck at home, or how they’re coping with being stuck at home. Enjoy their responses and add yours in the comments section.

Dean Nadelle Grossman, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs: I’ve been spending a lot of time helping faculty transition to online learning. I have been implementing university decisions at the law school. And I have been transitioning my own class to online learning. All while working remotely.

Haley Wentz (2L): My cat could not be happier to have me in my apartment 23/24 hours every day! I love being able to be with her even though she sleeps basically the whole day. Things I’m doing: (1) I moved to Milwaukee right before law school started and spent my first summer working in Madison. Though I’ve called this wonderful city “home” for almost two years I am still wildly unfamiliar. I’ve been going to a new neighborhood every day and taking a long walk to get fresh air and to explore this amazing city! (2) READING FOR PLEASURE! The one thing I have a lot of right now is time. Maybe I’ll actually make a dent in my “to-read” pile. . . . (3) Catching up with far-away friends. I have wonderful friends flung far and wide and have been having gloriously long phone calls and FaceTimes with them! (4) If you like yoga, my yoga studio is offering free virtual yoga! Maybe it’s a service you or someone you know could use in these complex times.

Christine Wilczynski-Vogel, Associate Dean for External Relations: From my world-wide headquarters at my kitchen table, I have discovered we have cardinals. I have lived in my house for 10 years and have never seen a cardinal. But as I sit here working, there is a beautiful red cardinal on my deck.  

Rob Hameister (2L): I’ve been making my own bread for about two years now. I have welcomed the opportunity to organize my work around my ability to babysit the dough while it rises. Since the stores have been low on bread etc. I’ve also had a pleasant spike in popularity among friend and family who can’t get their hands on good bakery!

Professor Paul Anderson: Well – I have learned that I am particularly horrible at texting and not much better at emailing. I keep sending things, and then saying “wait a minute did I just . . . .” I have also learned that play doh sticks to the carpet (my girls are home as well), we were not prepared to homeschool, it is possible my 6 and 10 year old will be putting my classes together as they get this more than I do, and washing my hands 20 seconds all the time is really making my skin dry. But I also found TV Mass pretty comforting and realized my wife’s obsession with hand wipes, washing hands after the sign of peace, and moving away from people who were coughing prepared all of us for this in some ways. Finally, I can find a way to grill just about anything in the backyard, so considering that, we are still “going out” to dinner. And the new Forensic Files II is out now, and pretty good, . . .  Stay safe everyone. 

Julie Leary (3L): My job gave me the option to work from home, and I am taking full advantage of it. I actually have a designated work space at home, but I am mostly working from my bed. While I am pretty happy about this arrangement, my cats are the biggest fans of the COVID shut-in. Ferdinand, in particular, is making the most of the situation. He spends 90% of the day laying on my lap or my legs, sleeping. He gets pretty offended when I have to get up to do anything. I requested my absentee ballot for voting without disturbing Ferdinand, and everyone else should request their ballot, too, by going here as soon as possible before April 2.I have not had the chance to get bored yet and adopt some new hobby, I’ve actually been pretty busy between work and conducting the remaining Moot Court interviews over the phone. By next week though I may have to find something to occupy my time, like sewing haute couture cat clothes, or reading a book for the first time in three years.

Professor Jake Carpenter: The “opportunity” to learn new technology for delivering content virtually is exciting. I think I’ll grow professionally from it and I hope it will force me to create new content that will be helpful for students even when we return to regular classroom instruction.

Alicia Bernards (1L): Vanessa [Flores (1L)], a few friends, and I have started playing online Settlers of Catan while chatting on FaceTime. I have an at-home “office” space too, but since my IT boyfriend’s desk is in the same room and he makes a lot of phone calls during the day, I spend a good amount of time with a textbook on the couch. If you live with someone else who is also stuck at home, noise cancelling headphones are an essential survival hack. Just know that you can’t hear how loud you are chewing your gum while wearing them and your roommate/significant other might go insane as a result. Perhaps not advised, but I am also taking occasional sojourns to walk the dogs of several hardworking healthcare workers so they can keep fighting the good fight. I get fresh air, puppy loves, and a brief respite from being stuck in my apartment with my boyfriend (insert laughing emoji here). There is a lot of santizing that occurs for each of these events, no lectures needed.

Professor Melissa Love Koenig: My inner techie likes learning about new technologies. I’m excited to spend time with the LAWR faculty practicing [Microsoft] Teams and sharing ideas. My dogs are happy to have me home! I’m heartened to see family, colleagues, students, and friends coming together to work on creative solutions during this crisis.  I’m grateful to hear kind and loving messages from many and to see people dealing patiently with this situation. 

Ellen Matheson (1L): For my part, it’s wonderful to be able to spend more time with my son on the weekdays. He loves to laugh at anything and everything (no one has ever laughed at so many of my “jokes”) and just started standing up on his own. But it’s also really hard to focus on “state privileges and immunities” or “private dispute resolution” with an eleven-month old babbling in your ear. That being said, my mom and my sister step in whenever my husband and I need to work, so we’re doing just fine. Every day, I think about how relieved I am that my husband and I decided to move back to Milwaukee – in times like these, living near family is such a gift.

Professor Chad Oldfather: For me it wasn’t so much creating a new home office as it was excavating the one that’s in our basement and that was (is) filled with old toys and clothes that we’ve been meaning to donate somewhere one of these days, camping equipment, and the stuff that we’ve hastily stashed there while “cleaning” the upstairs portions of our house over the years. Had to be done, though, because otherwise we’d all be on top of one another. I’ve also been learning some tech. My first crack at online ed is here.

Erin Chuzles, Student Affairs Coordinator: If the first 5 hours of being trapped and working from home with a self-quarantined husband and an almost two-year-old have taught me anything, I’ll hopefully come out of this with a new level of patience and excellent toddler negotiation skills! AH!

Kylie Owens (3L): I was able to get remote access to my work files and have been working from home. Although I miss being around people, the silver lining is that I get to work with my cat on my lap! The constant nuzzles and cuddles will be missed once we are able to return to normalcy.

Assistant Dean Angela Schultz: I’m going to need to learn how to exercise outside of a gym (Orangetheory) setting!

Professor Andrea Schneider: I’m starting to binge watch Downton Abbey which really is as good as people say; setting a goal for more push ups by the end of two weeks; and trying a new recipe for dinner every day this week!! 

Professor Rebecca Blemberg: (1) Spritz face with aloe, cucumber, green tea spray that came as free sample with some makeup daughter ordered. (2) Dramatically sprawl onto sofa (in a clean room, preferably with sunlight streaming in). (3) Press cool compress to eyes or forehead if desired or use lavender eye pillow you got from that one time you did yoga six years ago. (4) Listen to some opera greats. Feel every note. I personally like: Maria Callas, o mio babbino caro (Gianni Schicchi); Placido Domingo, E lucevan le stelle (Tosca); Renee Fleming, Deh Vieni non tardar (Le Nozze di Figaro); Luciano Pavarotti, Recitar! Vesti la giubba (Pagliacci); Luciano Pavarotti, Nessun Dorma (Turandot). Or whatever music you want, Edith Piaf, Patsy Cline, whatever you like that fits your mood. You can choose music that will break your heart or elevate your spirit or some combo thereof. Note that if family is working from home or doing online school, one may be lightly teased.
Son: Mom is weird.
Daughter: She’s vibing.

Christin Saint Pierre (3L): My home office has been rejuvenated and received an early spring cleaning. The dog is satisfied with the new addition of a dog bed in the corner so she can supervise my studies. During study breaks I’ve alternated between supporting the local economy with online shopping and entertaining family with an attempt to relearn various forms of dance via YouTube tutorials. They are still laughing. 

Professor Lisa Mazzie: After moving my adjustable desk from my work office to my home office, I’ve learned that I can’t lower it unless I first check for a cat underneath. And, yes, that’s my cat in the picture, “helping” me prepare a PowerPoint. LAWR 2 students, expect her to appear in anything we do.  

Finally, take care of yourself (mentally and physically) and watch out for the more vulnerable among us. And, please, wash your hands.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Camilla Nwokonko

    I have recently rediscovered my love for indoor house plants, and managed to get a few before the epidemic got really bad. They’re accompanying me in my apartment during this time! I’ve also gotten really into yoga, which is something I had not done a lot of before. Just trying to keep myself busy in general while also finding time to relax during these crazy times.

  2. Vanessa Flores

    Playing Settlers of Catan with Alicia, Melanie Aptaker, and Josh Hernandez (online while on FaceTime) has been life saving! Going from interacting with several people to only interacting with Simba and Bolt (my cats) was a little unexpected, so I am glad we found a good solution. I am also getting ready to bake some banana bread later today.

  3. Luke Schaetzel

    My saving grace has been pulling up background scenery/noises on my SmartTV. I’ve been able to go to sandy beaches and lakeside bonfires, while also doing my LGL reading the past few days. A great way to avoid cabin fever and find a sense of calm.

  4. Suzanne Caulfield

    Everyone is talking about all the free time they have. I still have to work!! Teaching online is time-consuming! And the studying and reading has not really stopped! So my days are not any different then they were before, only the location has changed! The last few days I have been taking a mid-day break to drive to Starbucks (both for coffee and human interaction!) but that might have to be curtailed – it’s costing me a fortune!!

  5. David Papke

    Thanks to one and all for sharing ways of coping with the pandemic and with the severe disruption in University activities. I welcomed your ideas for remaining sane in the midst of it all!

    Special thanks to Lisa Mazzie for underscoring the way anxiety has been amped up in our lives. The current situation is indeed anxiety-producing for control freaks, myself included. I feel very disoriented.

    When we speak of anxiety in this context, we are in most cases not referring to a genuine anxiety disorder of the sort that requires a physician’s attention. Instead, we are referring to a more general and multifaceted anxiousness. It’s born of both worry (How will I ever be able to finish my term paper ?) and actual stress (I left my class outline on a table in the library).

    Speaking abstractly, what steps could be taken to reduce our anxiousness?
    (1) Time your worrying. When you feel worrying coming on, set an alarm on your phone. Then stop worrying when the alarm goes off.
    (2) Focus on the specific “stressors” that cause you to stress out. Some can be addressed, and some cannot. At least you can know what the enemy is.
    (3) Limit your consumption of coffee, alcoholic beverages, and drugs. These “recreational” items are usually stimulants with a physiological impact. They won’t over time reduce your anxiousness.

    Overall, take care of yourselves AND take care of those around you.

    1. Lisa A. Mazzie

      Thank you, Professor Papke, for your helpful response and useful tips. I am finding myself trying to stick to my usual routine – getting up at the same time, doing my same morning routine, actually getting dressed (though in more comfortable clothes), and heading to my home office, where I try to act like it’s a work day. That is, no, I don’t *need* to do the laundry right now, I don’t *need* to vacuum this instant, etc. For me, establishing and maintaining a routine helps keep my anxiety down.

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