lockdown diary


I’ve been in lockdown with my partner for two months now. I have hardly left the house, apart from the occasional walk. Well I have been outside, of course, but in our small backyard and not proper outside outside, if you know what I mean.

My world has shrunk and, like a lot of other people’s, taken a decided turn to the digital. Teaching has migrated online but also other parts of life. My book group has gone Skyping and doubled its meetings. We used to meet monthly and combine socialising with serious text work. We’ve now separated the two and meet once a fortnight for “coffee” and once a fortnight to discuss our chosen book. And so it goes.

I’ve not taken up a new hobby. I haven’t suddenly started baking – well to be fair my partner used to have a bakery and still does all the baking we need. I was always a sporadic gardener and haven’t become more well acquainted with my fork and spade this spring than in any other year.  But I do do some things less than before. I’m reading less fiction and rather more sociological and philosophical writing about the state of the world. I’ve become even more interested in thinking about where we might go as opposed to where we might end up if we don’t do anything different. And of course the corollary – I am doing some things more than before – using my exercise bike much more assiduously for instance.

I’ve also noticed that I’ve noticed more. Noticing, paying attention to what is around me, is very much part of my research process. I do a lot of ethnographic research, and even when I’m working in other methodological traditions, I’m often still observing and listening. So, now that I am not out and about doing research, I find myself noticing and observing my own changed behaviour, emotional responses and everyday activities.

I find for example that I am more aware of small things. Because I’m in the house all of the time I see the spider’s web immediately. Because the seeds are growing in egg cartons next to the kitchen sink, I mark their progress several times a day and can move them about to catch the sun. Because I am in my home office much more I feel obliged to try to reorganise the space so that there is simply more – space that is.

I notice how lockdown has changed domestic habits. For years my partner and I have been training ourselves to shop little, often, seasonal and local. This minimises waste, keeps us somewhat in tune with the weather and where we are living, and also ensures we don’t end up with hideous science experiments at the back of the fridge. Now we just can’t do this. In two months I have managed to secure three online grocery deliveries which supplement weekly fruit and veg deliveries. I have become my grandmother whose life in an isolated mining town was punctuated by irregular deliveries from the big smoke. And what excitement that was for her and is for me.  What of the order actually arrives? What is substituted and is it really usable? What has to be gone without, again?

I notice that some academic habits have become glaringly obvious. I find it hard not to notice that I’ve got a case of what I could acronym FONDA – Fear Of Not Doing Anything. I see much more clearly now how I am prone to think I have done absolutely nothing at the end of the working day, when I have in reality answered emails, checked the latest journal articles, made contact with people on social media, reviewed a paper, written a reference, given feedback on some text, written a blog post. What’s that FONDA about then?

“Doing anything” irrationally equates to getting some writing or analysis done. Yet if you had asked me about what work I was doing during lockup on any particular day I would happily say that emails, reviewing etc all constituted my academic work. But also apparently doesn’t.

The work that gets counted in higher education is research and publications.  Teaching counts too but it’s all about doing whatever it takes to ensure the numbers, income and satisfaction scores. And the rest of it – reviews, references, emails, establishing and maintaining networks, giving feedback – these are unseen and taken for granted by all of our institutions.

The lockup has allowed me to understand – yet again, as this seems to be a lesson that I find difficult to learn – that the kind of competitive productivity pressures about research and writing that I intellectually reject have sneakily inserted themselves into my life. I’ve let myself become prey to an evaluative emotional regime that determines what I feel good about accomplishing, and what I don’t see as real work. I’m stuck in emotional labour relations that aren’t good for my lockdown psyche.

But maybe I can get out of this space. Despite the conflict between the rational and the emotional, perhaps I can get a grip. Perhaps now is the time to follow some other lockdown lessons.

Do less? Well I could do less, but I actually enjoy writing and researching so I’m not sure why I would want to do less. What I actually want is to keep doing the writing and research and not feel guilty when I can’t get as much done as I’d like.  Do more? Well no, I don’t want to do more of anything in particular as I think in general I do most of the things that need doing. So perhaps it’s do the same but differently? So still write and research whenever possible but don’t feel bad when not doing so. Well yes, that would be ideal. But how to get there?

I suspect doing the same but differently is easier said than done. But maybe the first step towards changing the academic guilt regime is to be aware of it. And making a kind of very late new year public resolution to try to get over myself and it.

FONDA is a crock. FONDA begone.


Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
This entry was posted in academic writing, emotional labour, lockdown, pandemic, productivity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to lockdown diary

  1. Dear Pat, I just wanted to say ‘thank you’ for your posts, particularly at the moment. As a PhD candidate furiously writing up and a full time researcher it is hugely reassuring to read your thoughtful words. They help tremendously in normal times, but even more so at the moment while I am removed from colleagues and friends.
    Best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Emma Dyer says:

    This is a lovely post, so thoughtful and timely.

    Something that has helped me over recent weeks is to consider more who I am writing to/for, whether it’s an email or a paper and to think about how that piece of writing could be useful in some way to somebody. That can help with FONDA by countering that sense that something … anything achieved is useful. Moving those egg cartons so they find the best light is such a lovely metaphor (as well as an actual benefit to the little seedings) for our ‘ being’ useful in the tiny, attentive things that we can do during this period.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian Maregedze says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post as it has related experiences. Being conscious of small things, webs and eating habits-diet. For me, I resolved to start writing journal articles seriously and also made my PhD application. All along l doubted pursuing PhD studies, and thanks to the lockdown.


  4. Pauline McGonagle says:

    Everything here is so spot on. I would say I am working harder than ever and the good days are really good but the ‘not so good days’ feel worse than usual. ‘Attending’ to what is around us is certainly an aspect of life which is helping me stay focused and sane and having a partner and a garden now feel like gifts from Heaven. I am now also focused on avoiding what you once called ‘flipping’ (what I once conned myself into believing was ‘multi-tasking’ in my pre-Covid lockdown life) and completing every every small task from hanging a wash, reading an academic paper, responding to a client’s enquiry to writing a few paragraphs for a Methodology section as distinct units of tasks done. Continuing this approach is how I will say tackle FONDA. Thank you again.


  5. Victoria Churchill says:

    I have literally just finished a meeting with my supervisor where I expressed frustration at how ‘slow’ I’ve been…and today I have a whole lot of stuff to do, but can’t face trying to squeeze in some writing (the thought brings me to tears, I’m just so tired today). Reading your post, I have a serious case of FONDA.


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