"Edge of Town" by Jessica Brilli.

Image courtesy of Jessica Brilli

Campus & Community

So what have you been up to?

7 min read

Harvard faculty and staff talk about how they’re spending their time when there’s nowhere to go and no one to see

The Gazette reached out to members of the Harvard community as they entered their second month of social isolation to find out what they are reading, watching, doing, and listening to in the age of coronavirus. Here are some of the ways they’re staying engaged.

Sketch of book.

Drew Faust

Harvard President Emerita; Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor

More than a half century ago, I chose a quotation from [Albert] Camus’ “The Plague” for my senior page in both my high school and college yearbooks. Two years ago, as I was stepping down from my term as Harvard president, the Board of Overseers, knowing my love for the book, gave me a beautiful illustrated French edition as a goodbye present. I have turned to it once again these past weeks finding new meaning in its treatment of “the precariousness of all things in this world,” and its reminder that “there can be no true goodness nor true love without the utmost clear-sightedness.” It is good for us all to recognize how “[t]oday the truth is a command.”

Braxton Shelley

Stanley A. Marks and William H. Marks Assistant Professor at the Radcliffe Institute; Assistant Professor of Music, Faculty of Arts and Science

I spend a lot of time thinking about and performing in the black gospel tradition. Oscar Williams’ “Safety” and Donald Lawrence’s “Jehovah Sabaoth,” two of my favorite songs, have been on repeat. Both pieces put a finger on uncertainty and anxiety in a way that I have found profoundly helpful. Beyond the gospel tradition, I’ve been listening to all the coronavirus songs, most of which are a kind of musical meme. These videos are highly hilarious. They offer a window into the creative ferment that is emerging from the quarantine.

Sketch of sneaker.

Soyoung Lee

Landon and Lavinia Clay Chief Curator, Harvard Art Museums

Like most parents of high school seniors, I’m savoring unexpected time with my son before he leaves for college (assuming that does happen in the fall). Because normally I’m in Cambridge weekdays and home in New York City on weekends, being reunited with family has been a gift, at least so far! I started a new morning routine: a run in the park with my husband. Recently I watched “The President’s Barber” (a 2004 South Korean movie) and “Sense and Sensibility” (2008 British TV adaptation). Last week my teenage daughter and I reread some of Sandra Boynton’s picture books, the ones from her baby years — I guess we were looking for simple pleasures, something comforting and witty.

Sketch of piano keys.

Annette Gordon-Reed

Charles Warren Professor of American Legal History, Harvard Law School; Professor of History, Faculty of Arts & Sciences

A few months back, before the pandemic struck, I decided to take up the piano again. I had taken lessons from the time I was 5 to about age 12. I stopped because I wanted to join my junior high school marching band (I inherited my brother’s tenor saxophone), and I was growing weary of piano practice and was a little stressed out by recitals and competition. So, I just ditched the piano, though the enjoyment of listening to it continued.

Like so many people, I had long regretted giving up the piano. It came to me: Why not find a teacher and start again? This has been an enjoyable, though humbling, experience. Sheltering in place has given me more time to practice. I do lessons with my teacher on Skype. I’m in Manhattan, and I miss signing up for the pianos at Harvard’s Music Department. But I will get back there.

Sketch of a camera.

Kathy Delaney-Smith

The Friends of Harvard Women’s Basketball Head Coach

I have been reading Glennon Doyle’s book “Untamed.” I am going slowly because I don’t want it to end, I love it so much. I am going to make my team read it. I think all women should. It’s Doyle’s view on the culture that we raise our children in and the way women are funneled into particular roles, and not allowed to be loud and confident. It looks at the whole set of characteristics that are attributed to men and the very different set attributed to women, and makes the point that it’s time for women to understand they are free to be whoever they are, to find their true selves.

We are also having fun on social media with the team, which is helping keep them sane because everyone has got every range of emotion. Each Tuesday a member of the team takes over Instagram and lets us know what they are doing while social distancing. It’s touching, funny, and really entertaining.

Sketch of a bicycle.

Andrew Ho

Charles William Eliot Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

When I am not scrambling to keep my students, advisees, and research projects thriving, I have been spending quality time with my daughters. The relatively empty roads have been great for teaching them how to bike with confidence. I have also enjoyed a few Zoom gatherings with neighbors, friends, and colleagues. We have managed a Zoom poker night, a Zoom spicy ramen challenge, and, believe it or not, Zoom karaoke. Twitter has become depressing, so I’ve turned to TikTok, which makes me laugh.

Sketch of a clock.

Bill Hanage

Associate Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

I’ve not had time to read anything non-COVID since February. I tried to reread “La Peste” [“The Plague”], given the subject matter and the way Camus has influenced my thinking ever since my best friend introduced me to his work. But I never made it past the first page. I have a framed photo of Camus above my desk in my office. Not sure when I will lay eyes on it again.

Sketch of a painter.

Jessica Brilli

Senior Graphic Designer, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

Since sheltering in place began, I find myself with several extra hours per week to spend painting — a typical pre-COVID week would have me on the train for two hours a day commuting from Quincy to Cambridge and back. The additional time has given me the opportunity to think more deeply about my painting and the direction it’s headed, rather than succumbing to the cyclical rush to produce work for the next show. The slower pace has caused me to feel more in touch with the painting process — I’ve been spending more time on canvas preparation, sanding and varnishing surfaces, and generally being more patient during a painting’s development.

Being immersed in my neighborhood has opened my eyes to surroundings I normally give little thought. Along with painting, I’ve been using photography as a creative outlet — capturing the warm glow of windows on my evening walks. I find myself exploring local streets like William Eggleston might — inspecting vignettes that I would have rushed past pre-COVID.

Sketch of coffee cup.

Jason Luke

Associate Director of Custodial and Support Services, Harvard University

Like many of us, I’m adjusting to largely remote work with lots of conference calls and Zoom meetings, mostly from my back porch! I’m working with folks on both adapting activities for the remainder of this year, but also planning for next year. On the home front, I’ve been drinking way too much coffee, doing quite a bit of seventh-grade math, and shooting hoops in our driveway. And making a lot of waffles! We’ve been rewatching all the “Star Wars” movies, the new “Star Trek: Picard” show, and old “Big Bang Theory” episodes. I think I’m probably drawn to those movies and shows right now the way one is drawn to comfort food. Definitely nostalgia and escapism as well.