In the move online this semester during the COVID-19 event, all of us had to make do with a makeshift workspace. For many of us, this included needing a space to record videos for our students. The first video I did, I randomly sat in front of this bookshelf in my home office instead of staying at my desk, and that was that: it’s been my “studio” ever since. Throw in a lighting kit I got a while back when I fancied taking my #bookstagram game to the next level (still working on that) and you’ve got yourself a bright corner of the world. It occurs to me, in writing this post, that I desperately needed such a corner and that, considering things were just plain hard(er) in those early days, this makeshift studio’s agency in helping me get necessary work done on a consistent and timely basis was/is very real and should be acknowledged. I mean, the shelf edges are blackboard paint with fields and categories chalked on them–wouldn’t you feel like a boss sitting in front of that level of awesome?

It wasn’t the perfect backdrop–I couldn’t get the computer set up in a way that just got the shelves and me and not the doors on either side. But it’s colorful. It’s got The Dissertation League sitting on it. In fact, several shelves are filled just with books I used in my dissertation, others with books from comprehensive exams, and the rest with works (scholarly and otherwise) that I use for research and continued learning. So, essentially, I’ve got the weight of almost a decade of learning at my back and some Funko thrown in to keep us all honest. None of this necessarily occurred to me when I chose it, but I don’t think it hurts that I feel accomplished, proud, and nostalgic when I look at all those texts that I’ve worked with and that continue to work with me as I create new projects and venture into new fields. We’re old friends and new and have been through a lot together.

So there’s a very different intra-action (or engagement) than the one I have, say, seeing a blank wall behind me as I hit record. A whole different (not necessarily better or worse) sense of self and confidence when sitting in front of one versus the other. In the case of the past weeks, I think the kind of difference the shelves make was/is pretty critical, or necessary. Beyond pulling me to show up, they also push some joy and confidence into a space that’s entangled within other spaces currently weighed down with heavy emotions and concerns. They remind me that, as Glennon Doyle says in Untamed (another book that’s played a critical role in my past few months):

We can do hard things.

And so I have. So we–all of us who have made this move to teaching/learning in circumstances we never considered–have. And here we are, seven weeks later, some of us anywhere from seven to a hundred videos later and recording the last check-ins or lectures or directions or explanations. Getting ready to let our studios be just shelves or couches or porches or desks or wherever-else again and hoping we won’t need them in the fall, although it’s looking more and more each day like we will.

As I finish up the last of my own recordings, I do wonder what my students thought, seeing my environment in these videos for the first time. I wonder if they tried to lean in and see what all was behind me, read that print and see which Funko Pops are above it. I wonder if some of them, watched the videos at all…

These might be questions on the final exam. I’m fascinated to get their perspectives on all of this and on seeing their professors in the wild.

And can I just say–real quick–that it’s like Studio (the recording platform in Canvas) has been programmed to find the worst picture in a however-many-minute clip and use it as the first thing students see and the image that will stare at them as the video just sits there unplayed on the screen. Now, you can replace this thumbnail with a still picture from your computer, but why mess with the randomness of the AIs? Check out these beauts below–that first one is my absolute favorite so far this semester.

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