So much time. So little time.

We have been together for 2,5 years. So many things have happened. So much time has passed since we met. So much I still haven’t said. So I am saying it now:

Thank you for being someone who came to my life when I least expected and most needed. I did not wait for you, but you came like a storm and swept me off my feet. I could not resist it. I did not want to stop it.

Thank you for being someone who has been committed from the first date. You made me part of your life from week 1. You introduced me to your friends in 2 weeks. You took me to meet your parents in 3 weeks. You took me on vacation in 4 weeks. You asked me to move in with you in a few months. You bought a house with me in a year. You asked me to share my life with you, forever.

Thank you for being someone who is so caring. You make me hot meal when I am sick. You hold my hand when I am sad. You let me sleep a bit longer. You make my tea a bit sweeter. You give me the best slice of cake.You put cream on my dry hands. You never let me carry heavy things. You ride a bike next to me even though you can go so much faster. You watch my favorite dramas with me even though you love comedy. You make me a bubble bath when I am tired. You bring me champagne for every little success I have. You are always here…when I need you, want you, miss you.

Thank you for being someone who made me believe in love again. I was lied, cheated, betrayed, misled so many times. I was broken. I unlearned to love. You were the one who showed me how to open my heart again. I learned how to love myself again and how to love you. You say, “I love you,” very often, but every time it is like the first time. Sometimes you are silent, but your hands say what you feel. I have never been touched so tenderly, so gently, so delicately. I have never been looked at with so much affection. I have never been desired so passionately. I have never been spoiled so regularly. I have never been loved so much.

Thank you for being someone who believed in me from the very beginning. You believe in my goals. You listen to my thoughts and ideas. You support my early steps in career. You share your experience. You look at my cover letters and resumes. You push me to do more blogging, more writing and creating every day. You boast to your family and friends about me. You are proud of my achievements. You cheer me up when I fail. You believe in me even when I do not believe in myself.

There are so many things I want to thank you for. So many more. I haven’t even mentioned the presents you give me, the dinners you cook for me, the trips you organize for me, the efforts you put for me to make our house the best home, the amount of hours you spend helping me achieve my dreams, the amount of love you give me every single day. Thank you for this all. Thank you for your love, for your care. For being who you are. Thank you for being the one.

So much time has passed since we met.

So little time has passed.

A whole life ahead of us…

zoom, zoom, zoom

My last class. My last zoom meeting with the students this semester. I turn off the camera, mute the microphone, relax my face, lean back on the chair, and finally put my feet on the desk – something I could never do in front of my students on zoom. It is such a liberating feeling to once again be completely yourself in your own office at home. No more worries about how messy my room looks (in case I forget to tidy it up the night before the class), how sleepy and a bit swollen my face looks because I have woken up literally 10 minutes before the zoom class, how ridiculous my sweatpants look underneath the desk as my students can only see a nice blouse on top, if the students can hear my boyfriend talking (very!) loudly on a business call in his office next door, if the WiFi is going to work through the entire class, if everyone has their cameras on and you are not just staring at yourself for two hours straight (very uncomfortable feeling, I have to say), if the planned seminar can be effectively delivered online or if it is a total disaster and I should definitely rethink the online lesson plan — all those if’s and how’s.

This sudden switch to online teaching has been a hell of a ride. Nobody was prepared for that. I remember on March 13 (three months ago already!), at 6:30 am I heard the usual, slightly annoying alarm sound, opened my eyes half way, took my phone and saw a message from my friend: on the radio, it was announced that all classes were suspended due to the pandemic. It was Friday. Everyone was happy to have an extra day off, but I had an anxious feeling that things were going to change drastically at the university (my sixth sense maybe). And next week, on Monday, the universities announced we had to deliver the rest of the Fall semester online. O-N-freaking-L-I-N-E.

I struggled a lot with this move. I was terrified to switch to online teaching. The rest of the Fall semester I taught offline, giving students writing assignments and refusing to organize online meetings. I have always struggled with the fear of public speaking, but I have managed to control it over the last 5 years of my university teaching (I still sweat every time before the class starts, but I am more used to that now). During my years of teaching, I have polished my lesson plans, teaching strategies, and techniques. I knew what I was doing, so my fear of public speaking subsided. Until the pandemic hit and the online teaching became a new norm. And the fear of something new and unknown hit me to the bottom. I remember I was angry for this switch. I was frustrated. I was completely lost. I cried a bit. I could not sleep at night. Anxiety just went 150%.

To be fair, everyone was stressed. Everyone at both universities where I am teaching. The first thing students and instructors noticed was how the universities started bombarding us with emails: every single day we would get a bunch of messages from ALL the departments imaginable about ALL sorts of policies and rules, next steps and decisions, suggestions and assumptions, pieces of advice and recommendations. Sometimes these messages were contradicting each other, which made it even more confusing for students and professors. Apart from that, as I am teaching at two different universities, I got conflicting, drastically different emails from them: one university would go this way, and the second would go another. Completely different strategies, procedures, regulations. I felt so exhausted by simply reading these emails every day.

And the students, poor students. Not only did they have to deal with the sudden switch to online delivery, many of them also had to move from their residencies and go back home, wherever home was. I got so many emails from students who were on the verge of crying because of the whole situation. Somebody had to vacate the dorm within 48 hours. Someone had to leave the country and be quarantined in another country for 14 days. Somebody’s parents lost jobs. I got such emails every other day at the end of the Fall semester. My students were stressed and shocked, and completely disoriented.

And at that moment, I realized that this was not about me. It was about the students who struggled the most and needed the most help. I instinctively understood that the biggest thing I could do was to stay connected with them. So when in two weeks, the Spring semester started, and I was asked to teach two courses, I decided to embrace my fear and do everything I could to make the classes as close to the real ones as possible. In a period of one week, I figured out how to use zoom, bought the last available Logitech camera at Walmart (camera were sold out like crazy everywhere), reconsidered how to teach the 3-month course in a period of 1 month or even less via zoom. I had to overcome my own anxiety of seeing students for the first time via camera and creating the positive atmosphere to discuss literature. Every single assignment, activity, group work, task, discussion that I have developed over 5 years had to be restructured for the online format. I recorded video lectures for my students to watch offline. I met my students online every single day. I had virtual office hours. I put every activity into a new format without sacrificing anything or removing it from the syllabus.

But, most importantly, I was always there for my students. And I felt like they needed that. I saw a lot of them suffering from isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. I felt they wanted to meet online. And even though for most of them, it was a required first-year course, I felt that at this moment of our life, at this unprecedented period, it was literature that connected us. We read poems, novels, and plays about human suffering, survival, and traumas and got inspired by the tremendous perseverance, strength, will, and an incredible spirit people demonstrate in the face of adversity. Whether a book was about the Holocaust or slavery, AIDS epidemic or homophobia, they all resonated with the students and made the events happening in the world – be it Covid-19 or protests – so significant, so relevant to all of us.

I am writing this post at the end of Spring semester, 2020, when I said goodbye to my students and waved at them for the last time on camera. I met these people virtually for the very first and last time, but the connection we built was real, absolute, and 100% authentic.

Two-wheel friend or enemy…

I do not know how to ride a bike. It is embarrassing. I am 32, and the only bike I have ever truly mastered was a tricycle when I was 5. I always feel ashamed to admit I cannot ride a bicycle. By my age, you are supposed to know that. It is like one of those life skills you obtain when still being a child: like learning how to walk or how to eat with a fork. Everyone knows how to ride a two-wheel friend. I have never met anyone who cannot.

My mother, my dad, my sister – all ride bikes well. When I was a kid, we used to ride bikes for 2 hours (one way!) to get to our summer cottage house (also called dacha, where we planted veggies, but nothing ever grew). My sister had a vintage blue bike; my mom had a heavier dark blue bike with thicker wheels, and my dad…he had some giant bike, the color of which I do not remember now. I do, however, remember the orange child seat attached to the front of his bike. This was my seat. This was my bike ride. We went to the country house every single weekend, and I quite enjoyed riding a bike … enjoyed having my dad ride a bike with me on top of it.

So say the truth, I had always been afraid of bikes. They looked like metal monsters with little control, but a lot of power. I’ve always associated this fear with an accident that took place when I was, I don’t know, maybe 6 or 7. It was a summer day, and I was bored at home. We lived in a high-rise apartment, and there was a backyard with swings and playground. A lot of kids played there, and I went to play there too. I spent two hours on the swing and was already ready go home.

When I wanted to cross the street towards my house, I realized I could not do it: 10 or 15 boys were riding bikes back and forth, speeding like crazy, not letting anyone cross the street. Swoosh, swoosh. There literary wasn’t an opening for me to cross the street. I did not know what to do. I just stood there frozen. I decided to go around the street and cross the street in another place. I was lost in my thoughts, thinking about these annoying boys and I did not see one cyclist going right towards me. I saw the big wheels approaching me. I saw the metal monster clinching its teeth. The boy thought I would jump off his way, but I stood completely paralyzed. I closed my eyes and lost my consciousness.

The next thing I remember was the dirty asphalt and the upside view of the house. I was lying on the street, and my arm was stretched in an unnatural position. It wasn’t broken, but it was definitely looking twisted. My sister found me on the street and brought me home. I remember my parents put the Russian “all-cure ointment” on my hand and told me to lie down. I was home. I was safe. The two-wheel monsters were far away.

This was the turning day in my life. It determined my absolute fear of bicycles. I could not force myself to ride a bike. And I was terrified when I saw a cyclist approaching me. When I ask my parents about this story, they always say I made it up. That it never happened, and it is just figment of my imagination. My mom would brush off and say: “Don’t tell fairy-tales. Such a serious accident never took place.”

And I wonder: how could my psyche create something that realistic? I remember everything about that day distinctly. The burning sun, the crazy speed of those cyclists, the feeling of lying on the street, the pain in my hand (although I never felt it was broken, only bruised). Did I dream it all?

Was this story true or not, but I never tried to bike much after that. I rode a bike maybe 2 more times in my life and only because of peer pressure and me not wanting to look ridiculous in the eyes of my peers.

I turned 32 this May, and my boyfriend bought a birthday present for me – gorgeous strawberry pink hybrid bike with vintage style brown leather saddle and brown wheels. It took my breath way. It did not look like an enemy. It looked like a friend I was finally ready to have in my life.

We have been riding and enjoying our bikes for a month now, almost every day. I still feel pretty frightened every time I see another cyclist approaching me. I still have issues with handlebar control, especially when going down the hill. I still sometimes wish it was a safe and familiar tricycle.

I still sometimes wish I was back to that little orange seat, feeling the breath of my dad sitting behind me and cheering my mom and sister to catch up with us.