When you logged off a few minutes ago, I was startled to be staring at myself again. These ten minutes passed more quickly than I’d imagined ten minutes last. But measuring time is never my forte.

Thank you for these moments of stillness. They felt less lonely, and more focused, than the stretches of minutes (hours/days) in which I’ve accidentally done nothing. The pandemic has really messed up my already-shaky handle on time.

Before our encounter, I was scouring the internet for kf94s, so that my partner will be safe when he returns to the classroom next week, and wondering what “safe” means in this context. I was also rewriting sentences, in my head, for the manuscript that I’m woefully behind in revising; thinking about whether to move halfway across the country next week, as I’ve planned, or if the rise of delta means I should delay that; and periodically trying to work out where I went wrong in today’s crossword puzzle.

And then I clicked into our encounter, with you looking into the camera, and I began to feel — calm, quiet, still. (No, that’s not quite right, because at first I was surprised to see that I had connected via my external camera, which I then had to resituate, and it made me flustered, and I briefly enlarged my own video feed at least three times to make sure it was in place. But then I stopped doing that.) I spent most of the encounter just sitting, listening to my dog snoring softly on the couch behind me, and looking at you, live in full screen on my laptop. Did I remember to look into the camera at all? I’m not sure I did. If not: apologies.

But you looked into the camera. I’m thinking now about how you looked — attentively but not expressively. That is, without doing what a director I used to work with would have called indicating, an exaggerated comportment meant to telegraph one’s internal state. I tend to do it a lot when I video conference, especially when teaching, in an effort to push past the mediated distances of the remote classroom, to build up the zoom room’s energy. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t, but an irony is that afterwards, like so many of us, I feel totally depleted. By contrast, just being with you, however mediated, has left me feeling restored.

Li Cornfeld