The second half of the semester has been difficult for a million different reasons. Many of us are relegated to small apartments or bedrooms, some of us have roommates, and many of us are far from our loved ones, which makes this transition to working from home even tougher. My mother, sister, and brother all work at the same grocery store chain in California and have been on the front lines of this pandemic. They have all had to work forty hours or more a week and for the duration of March and most of April they were told they could not wear masks because it scared the customers. I chose to mention this because while I am privileged enough to work from home, the people that I care most about, are not. As the situation got worse, I would spend hours on the phone with family members trying to get them protective gear, teach them how to do order pickups, and find ways to send them things like hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray. I would watch the news endlessly and make sure to keep updated on every bit of information coming out of California and Iowa, so that I could best protect them and myself. In the midst of all of this, I still needed to find time to grade student’s assignments, respond to emails, attend weekly classes, and complete my own work. The shutdown of the university happened so quickly. We were sent on spring break, then we received emails that spring break would be extended one week, then we were told the libraries were being closed, and before we knew it the entire school would be inaccessible for the duration of the semester and into the summer. Many of the plans I had made to finish my last semester of coursework had to change, and this included my capstone project at the Studio.
I had initially planned to have a complete version of my athletic statuary map done by the end of this semester. I have been working on this particular map for about a year now and it is meant to be a full collection of athletic statuary that people can access and search through pretty easily. This is my last semester of coursework here at the University of Iowa and as such I wanted to also have a professional website ready to go with the working statuary map as the crown jewel. This capstone was mostly on track and my projects were set to be completed on time, and then the entire university was shut down and all of those plans basically dissolved. Up until this point, I had really done everything that I knew how to do on the map, and I was in need of help and input from the staff at the Studio to finish it. Many of the changes I wanted to implement were things like cleaner pop-up windows, I needed to figure out how I wanted to handle statues that were all located at the same place, and I wanted to include a territory acknowledgement that would show up whenever the map was accessed. After I realized I would not have unfettered access to the staff at the Studio, I started to watch tutorials and train myself on how to fix some of these issues. The motivation and focus it took to do this was overwhelming. I found myself getting frustrated and angry with my slow internet connection and I was certain that at any point my 2012 MacBook would take her last breath. After what felt like months of trying to do this work on my own, I finally decided that I needed to reach out to Jay at the Studio and get some pointers to see if we could work through some of these things remotely. He suggested using a site called GitHub. This would be a space where we could collaborate remotely and work on my projects. He uploaded all of the files I had sent him while I tried to teach myself how to use the platform. We have had to start and stop this project so many times due to the sheer amount of work that I find myself doing in isolation. One day he and I exchange emails back and forth about the map and then I spend the next week crafting a presentation for another class and grading student papers, and by the time I have the energy to revisit my map, I have completely forgotten what we are working on. It has been really disheartening at times and at others it has just been too much to even think about.
I am the type of learner who does best when she is in the same space as the person teaching. I like to ask a lot of questions and I like to chat through my work and issues I am having, in person. This pandemic has made this type of learning experience impossible and in the span of only a few weeks, I have had to reorient the entire way I experience digital work. I have spent many hours during this half of the semester questioning my skills and wondering if I am even capable of this kind of work, and I think I have come to realize that my interest in digital humanities came out of a desire to visualize my research and from a place of exploration, rather than a place of mastery. In this time of isolation and unrest, I have come to reacquaint myself with these initial feelings and although I do not have some perfectly polished project to show off, I have a renewed sense of myself in relation to my work and that seems just as useful.