Elena Turner ’22 in Costa Mesa, California. “Outside the house, we put on armor.”
Elena Turner ’22 in Costa Mesa, California. “Outside the house, we put on armor.”
Social Sciences

The Quarantine Journals

Reed students chronicle life under lockdown and explore what the pandemic has done to their families, their neighborhoods, and their future.

July 2, 2020

The anthropology class Bodies, Spaces, Subjects (Anthro 201) explores what it means to live in the world together as embodied human subjects. Students read works by phenomenologists, critical theorists, and ethnographers to learn how we collaboratively use our bodies to feel, create, imagine, and experience both ourselves and the worlds we inhabit. They discuss the interanimation of people and places, and examine how these places dynamically gather humans and nonhumans, ideas and feelings, presents, pasts, and futures. They conduct ethnographic research into socially dynamic campus sites such as the library, Commons, the Paradox Café, and the pool hall.

At least, that’s how the course began back in January. Then the pandemic hit. Within weeks, the 36 members of the course went from holding class in a circle on the Great Lawn to peering at our computer screens from all over the globe. It became clear that we were living through unprecedented circumstances, forced to reinhabit our worlds in a new form, refeel our bodies in a moment where they seem decidedly at risk. So we decided to examine the lockdown as a lived, collective experience.

What follows is a selection of excerpts from weekly journals written for the class in the early days of the quarantine. They explore various themes that this new world has called forth, including the re-experiencing of home and neighborhood as sites of welcome intimacy but also anxious imprisonment; the fraught navigation of public spaces like the sidewalk or the grocery store; the simultaneity of connection and disconnection in a socially distanced world; and the various ways a Reed education and the Reed community have become virtually and creatively reconfigured.

These fragments only gesture to the richness, artistry, and thoughtfulness of our classmates’ work. They represent deeply personal experiences, but we believe they will resonate with Reedies more broadly. We are all in this together.

—Nicole Radlauer ’23

—Prof. Paul Silverstein [anthropology]

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Prelude

Mona Pan ’22

Portland

January 23. The Drawing Near of a Ruin Called Wuhan

A, my roommate, comes from South Korea. She came back to campus on January 20, which is when South Korea announced its first case of COVID-19. We were together the day Wuhan locked down the city. On a morning full of Portland sunshine, she showed me a video taken by a nurse in Wuhan. She turned up the volume so that I could hear the speaker’s voice that survived the white airtight hazmat suit and the hustles and bustles in the back.

In the video, the nurse was breathing heavily; speaking quickly, she gave her firsthand account: 1) nurses and doctors had been working non-stop; 2) the hospital was full of patients and more patients kept coming in; 3) this new virus was deadly. She highlighted the risk of going to hospital: some people, after noticing suspicious symptoms, went to the hospital for treatment, but the problem is that a significant proportion of them got infected in the hospital. She urged people to stay at home and reduce contact with others to the maximum extent.

The customary perception of a hospital is a place of refuge where you go to treat illness, but during the outbreak it has developed into a hotbed for virus transmission. This defamiliarizes the hospital and instigates panic. On a larger scale, the city of Wuhan, through videos (showing streets, apartments, hospitals, etc.), is now inextricably linked to the virus. For many people, Wuhan turned from a “sheer physical terrain” (to borrow Casey’s phrasing) to an “existential space” built on a tabula rasa that carries with it “particularities of culture and history.”

March 10. Rowing in the Same Boat

Meanwhile, my friends were also reacting to emerging anti-Asian assaults, harassment, and hate crimes via social media. Our panic spread, or one can also say that one kind of panic was disrupted by another kind; there was not only panic over the virus and the inadequate response by the institutions, but also panic over our racial identity. For Chinese international students at Reed, the stigma shrouding mask-wearing was highly stressful:

“I’m afraid to wear a mask in class, because others might think I am sick.”

“I am the only one who wore a mask to class today.”

“You are so brave to wear a mask on campus.”

“I saw a person who wore a mask on campus!—Are they white?—No, they are a Chinese upperclassman.”

On another side, my friends who are Asian American presented some different views:

“I don’t think masks really work. It only prevents you from large droplets.”

“I’m good. If I get the virus, I get the virus.”

“Just remember to wash your hands and keep a distance.”

Cultural differences became more evident under this stigma, and the “we” evolved into carrying the idea that we have similar views on masks in the sense that we recognize and experience that stigma and to some extent believe that the stigma is only visible to some people but not all. It was awkwardly hilarious that my friends and I, for several days, only wore masks in small groups that consisted of Chinese internationals and not on other occasions. Hence, in a way, the panic about racial and cultural differences triumphed.

As more and more cases were reported in the United States, we started to recognize the possibility of school shutting down or classes switching online. A new topic dominated our group talk: What should we do next? The group was divided by competing opinions: some were certain about staying, some preferred to leave; some remained ambiguous; some were waiting for their parents’ call; and some were constantly changing their inclinations.

March 14. The Scattering

B booked a flight back to Shanghai on March 12, the day Reed announced it would put classes online. B said, “If things keep going like this, it’s very possible that a third of the population in America will get infected.” He left on March 14.

That probably sounded bold and speculative to a lot of ears; nevertheless, it reveals a common anticipation among Asian internationals that the condition of virus infection in America will soon be very serious. B shared his suspicion that flights might soon be canceled, since China will start limiting entry from countries with many confirmed cases. This forced us to confront the decision to stay or leave.

The group reformulated into two sides. Some booked their tickets and some opted to stay. As time moved forward, there was also a small portion of people who initially chose to stay, changed their mind, and booked a flight.

As we relocated to different parts of the globe, the sense of collectivity that we constructed by living together on campus was wrecked, displaced by new modes of life in different physical locations. At the same time, a new sense of collectivity filled in the absence and endowed each of us with a new name: the pandemic generation.

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First Days

Natalie Goldstein ’22

Pacific Palisades, California

Day One

Just recently, I lived alone. I lived in a dormitory. I tended to keep to myself, spending time in my single, a space that had been a blank canvas when I arrived there in the fall. Soon, as many of us might do, I swallowed it up in my beloved clutter. Out of old books, nostalgic knickknacks, and a couple of warm, cozy blankets, I fashioned a place for me, its sole inhabitant. I created a home.

Sure, living there wasn’t perfect. A strange assortment of forgotten objects (including garbage) could be found in almost any common space; a teetering stack of dirty dishes would always be awaiting a washing in the sink; hair made its home in every single shower drain; the doors slammed; people shouted in the hallways, keeping me awake at night. I am grateful for the chance to avoid such annoyances for the remainder of the semester.

However, I couldn’t possibly forget the all-enveloping warmth that radiated from within Aspen House. I can still hear the echoes of enthusiastic whoops and infectious laughter that so often found homes within the walls of common spaces. I can still hear a sizzle as the sweet aromas of home cooking waft over from the kitchen, tickling my nose. I can still feel the intense intimacy held within these spaces, the spirit of community and collaboration, and a sense of familial love. Now, it is but a memory.

Now, I live alone.

Day Two

Today, my family celebrated Passover. I don’t have a car, so they came by to pick me up. Everyone had jammed themselves in: my dad, our longtime nanny and family friend Ruthie, her daughter Katherine, her son Emerson, and my brothers, Alex and Nicholas. It seemed that all of them had wanted to pick me up for this special event; most of them hadn’t seen me in person for a few months. They greeted me with joy, smiling and laughing as I got into the car. I smiled back, but they didn’t see it. I was wearing the KN95 mask my dad had given me.

I sat in the back seat next to Katherine. I was thrilled to see her again, given that our relationship had long surpassed friendship and ventured further into sisterhood whenever we got together. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to hug all of the people that were in that car with me. I didn’t. I couldn’t. At that time, I could have been a carrier for the virus, having less than two weeks prior passed through a couple of airports.

I knew our seder had the potential to be dangerous, though it was not until we arrived at my family’s home that I completely understood the possible consequences of going through with an in-person, three-hour dinner. My mother had lavished hours of work on the traditional foods I had grown up with, which the rest of us appreciated; this meal, which had been prepared by my paternal grandmother in the same way for as long as we had been a family, never failed to bring us comfort.

Little did I know that she would be allowing the little, frail firecracker referred to by many as “Grandma Leah” to attend the seder in person. I had figured that my mother would do this; the seder was for my grandmother more than anyone else. I stuck to my guns, which kept me from even setting foot in the house before anyone confirmed or denied it.

We argued. We all knew the risks, including my grandmother. She claimed that she would have been so heartbroken if we couldn’t eat together, that would bring her closer to death than contracting the virus.

I conceded.

That night, we sat around the dining room table in masks. I sat at one end in an attempt to physically remove myself from my grandmother as much as possible, given the social constraints of sitting at the dinner table. She sat at the other end, but at the same time, she didn’t. She had been given a different chair and a coffee table on which there was a place setting specifically for her, and she stayed there throughout the seder. My parents instructed the rest of the attendees to take routes to other areas of the house that would prevent them from moving within six feet of her. No one forgot, save Nicholas, nine years old and the youngest of us.

In her chair, which had more cushioning and was lower to the ground than the others, she maintained the slight hunch she had while standing, and wore a different mask than the rest of us. It looked like she was shriveling up, withering away. It was a simultaneously terrifying and devastating sight, but I didn’t cry. It would have ruined the seder for her.

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Julien Zapata-Minchow ’23

Eugene, Oregon

March 25

Today I have been in a much better mood than in the past few days. I had a long conversation with my parents last night about moving forward with me living in the house and how it was necessary not only for the sake of my family but also for my own mental health that I take steps to be less outwardly negative and down as I have been until now.

I was awake a long time last night and into this morning thinking about how I need—it’s true, I do honestly feel it is a necessity—to change my mindset from one of pure negativity to something even a little more positive, or at least neutral. So today I have been trying to do things that make me feel good—and more importantly, trying to pull as much joy from these things as I can. I spent about two hours drawing in my room while listening to music right after I got out of bed this morning.

I started on the project of reorganizing my room. I hadn’t realized the importance of particularly defining my space until living in a dorm room at Reed. When I was still living at home full time, I took my room for granted, as I spent lots of my time in more communal areas of the house and didn’t feel such a strong need to tailor the room to myself so specifically. However, coming back I realized quickly just how much I needed to carve a space out of the house that was distinctly mine and reflected who I am now, instead of who I was before leaving home.

I started by pulling all the clothes out of my drawers and closet, reorganizing all of it, which opened up lots of space and made everything much more accessible. Then I moved to an in-depth review of all the material possessions in my room and whether or not I wanted to keep anything. I replaced the tall bookshelf I’ve had for the last six years with two colorful shelving units I used in my dorm and reoriented them to open up more space in the room. Then I cleared my desk and its drawers to allow for more work space. When I finished I felt a lot better about simply being in my room. It felt much more like my space. It felt like somewhere I could go in a house shared by the rest of my family and be just a little bit removed and alone if I wanted to do so. I was very happy with it.

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Emma Dillon ’23

Boulder, Colorado

March 24

My suitcases and boxes sit in the hallway outside my room, unpacked, though I’ve been home for five days now. I don’t expect them to be there, and trip over them every time I leave to eat or visit my family. I haven’t unpacked yet because if I do, I’m worried it will really feel like I live here. My memories of Reed, not long enough to take deep root in my body, will recede and feel like some kind of dream. The boxes are becoming an anchor, something I need to see every day to remind me that this is impermanent.

March 31

I spent today eclipsed by a total exhaustion. I logged into classes in a fog, feeling like some cog in my brain was missing. My veins felt full of lead, like I couldn’t lift myself from my chair. I did my readings and absorbed nothing. Deciding that I needed a break, I went to sit outside.

Spring is so much different here than it is in Portland. The persistent green of moss is completely absent. Harsh sunlight filters through stark white clouds, giving everything a grayish tinge. Bare trees don’t have buds yet, skeleton beige limbs framing my yard. The few flowers that dared to bloom this early are wiped out by the frost each morning. The grass is brittle and easily trampled, and though the air is warm, it bites with a bitter white wind only present in winter.

I wonder if this is the way things are, or if the colors change based on my emotional state. My mind is bland, cold, crawling through each minute, so this is the way I see things. A fenced-in trap of decayed nature, refusing to grow, to progress into spring. Minutes drag by like months, and at the same time each day is gone in the blink of an eye. . . .

Thinking about the passage of time sent my mind into a spin. It’s currently 4 a.m. and there is nothing I can do to quiet my mind. I feel trapped and at the same time there’s too much space. My thoughts branch exponentially, until the noise of each thought-train overwhelms my senses.

I tried to force some color into the room by turning on a string of purple Christmas lights. I placed them under my bed so that the light spread through my room. This did nothing to slow the chatter, so I decided to take a walk around the house. The isolation from both friends and even the family I live with digs away at my ability to process everything that’s happening. I think of my dad, and of Reed, and of Eleazar, and I wonder how long any of them will be with me. It’s a caravan of disaster.  If this lasts much longer my dad could lose his job or Reed could stay online next year—if my dad loses his job then I won’t have the money to go back to Reed—if I don’t go back to Reed I won’t see Eleazar or my friends again—if I lose this section of my life I will have to start over. This branches into others—my dad could die—if my dad dies I will be destroyed—this grief will cause me to fail out of college.

On and on and on with no definite end to the wondering. In the dark, I completed a puzzle my dad had set out on the table. Without my sight, the tactile sensation of the pieces forms a map. This simple exercise gives me purpose. I didn’t want it to end, so I left the lights off. It would take longer that way. When it was done, I began to think again. I couldn’t bear it, so I took it apart and completed it again. 

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Veronica Hua ’23

Jining, China

April 4

In my absence at college my mom has cultivated plants. Roses, carnations, lilies, daisies, peonies, and even a strawberry plant now clutter the spaces of our small apartment where sunlight used to just fall. Now, it nourishes. Three days out of quarantine, and I am again reminded of how important the presence of the sun is for reminding me that life does, in fact, go on, even as we are all stalled in this surreal state of affairs where “normal” life has paused and no one is sure when it will pick back up again.

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Reality Sinks In

Chloe Kiger ’23

New York City

April 5

We walk through Grand Central Station on a Sunday morning, gloves and masks on. My mom says what a great time it is to explore New York architecture. The entire length of Park Avenue, or Madison. It seems like you can see all of it now. Seems much longer somehow, like the bare street makes the skyscrapers at its end scrape higher. A parade of empty buses. My dad wears a red bandana around his mouth as a DIY mask, since the ones we bought ($10 apiece) smell carcinogenic. The death rate in the Bronx is three times that of Manhattan. This is one of my mom’s talking points on Zoom calls with unrecognizable relatives. My dad gives money to a drunk outside the station—he now always fills his pockets with wads of ones when we go out.

I live on the 20th floor of a 40-floor building on the corner of 64th and 3rd. At 7 p.m., in the mists of my listening to COVID stories on NPR, ingesting an indigestible quantity of tragic events, the neighborhood wedges out of itself and fellow city-dwellers step out onto their balconies. They bang their pots and holler and whoop. A man with an average voice does a full rendition of “Amazing Grace.” It makes me cry and I’m not a crier. I feel patriotic for the first time in my life. 

April 6

My brother and I fight in our one-bedroom apartment, a floor below my parents. The fold-out couch I sleep on is in the living room, therefore the living room is my room (To my brother: Keep your shit out of my room. Him to me: I’m doing a lab, put your goddamn headphones in).

I go on a run; people move around me to keep six feet between us. I make faces at a baby in a stroller. I hear toddlers and dogs fussing in the apartment next door. I’m starting to feel an itching kind of alone. I call my friend Julia. My brother and I get a little drunk and stay up late talking like we used to in middle school, when we lived together and were never out at night. We surprise each other with a humble candidness. My understanding of the life I’ve lived continues to shift, even as life seems to condense.

April 7

It’s sunny in the apartment. I clean for the first time since I’ve gotten here. Later, Pierre and I get in a fight over who will vacuum. He says he wishes it was the Middle Ages so he could legally kill me. I call him the biggest asshole I’ve ever met. Twenty minutes later he takes a video of me taking notes on the toilet: it cracks us up.

Most of my time is lost. It takes 45 minutes for me to eat a popsicle on the balcony after my run. I sit down to do my work and all of a sudden it’s evening. A daily occurrence. We’re out of beer and my big plan for the night is to go out for some. My gut nerves go crazy as I’m getting ready to head out. Nighttime doesn’t spook me but tonight it does, maybe because everything a little too still.

April 9, 2020

Today in the city everyone carried with them a burdening awareness, of every changing form, every moving figure their eyes crossed. Every sidewalk spit splat helds the possibility of death via shoe, carpet, hand, itchy eye. Death in a high rise, 200 ambulance calls ahead of yours. That’s how it felt at least.

There’s a brief storm in the city. Reminds me of open blue hills, fat skies, handsome cars,  the things I miss about Portland. A strong gust knocks the chairs on the balcony over, slams a window open, which knocks over a potted plant. I spend six minutes sweeping and vacuuming up the dirt and glass. Put the trash down the garbage chute. Never used one before.

April 11, 2020

Last night my brother used our make-seltzer-at-home machine as a water gun. My mom still has the energy to crack up with us, my dad is flat-faced—exhausted by paying constant attention to the placement of his body and every other, the recent history of every space he encounters, and the possibility of death embedded in an elevator button’s unknown past.

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Elena Turner ’22

Costa Mesa, Ca

April 11

In the blue house on the corner, you’ll find people each with their own schedule, sometimes each in a separate room of the house, working away, other times all together in the kitchen cooking, eating. One of us leaves the house to get lentils, beans, bananas, avocados, eggs, hummus—a whole slew of groceries. One of us walks out to the nature preserve behind my neighborhood to walk for an hour, to smell the ladybugs walking on shaded green leaves and hear the bees resting their heavy bodies on mustard flowers. Essential activities.

One of us bakes bread and another learns to brew her own kombucha. Two of us meditate daily, practicing breathing deeply and holding our breaths for prolonged periods of time. New activities; now that we have the time we take the time to do them. One of us sets up a portable barre in the living room to practice ballet for hours. Recordings of piano music waft through the house. One tendu front, three little ronds; to the side, en croix; then plié, rond de jambe to the back. Practiced movements in a foreign space, although the foreign is slowly becoming familiar. The cold marble yearns to scuff the smooth satin of pointe shoes.

We are all relearning how to inhabit our house, not only as a place of comfort, shelter, warmth, but of frustration, strain, and uneasiness as we bring our outside worlds within one house.

April 13

The uncertainty of this time has worn off. I used to feel unstable, like the tablecloth had been ripped out from underneath me and I was tumbling downward, grasping at anything, and there was no solid table to catch me. Now I feel pretty certain about this reality, about my routine, understanding that this. . .  is just the way things are. 

Bachelard wrote of thresholds, of liminal spaces or nonplaces we inhabit. These thresholds are between worlds, between being and nonbeing. Shock accompanies each crossing of a threshold, moving from the uncertainty of possibility to the certainty of a reality. I feel like I have crossed a threshold, that I now recognize this as normal. I’m no longer in a state of liminality. 

Sometimes, though, something will stick out. A weed pushing its way through the cracks in the smooth pavement. How quiet it is in the streets at night! How lively it is on the sidewalks in the daytime! How strange it is, standing firmly in place before the threshold of my friend’s house, when all I want to do is rush inside and hug him! How strange it is, feeling the sense that objects are contaminated, that I should push the crosswalk button with the sole of my shoe! How long ago it seems, that I walked under the cherry blossoms in Eliot Circle and the gold light filtering through the leaves took my breath away! How far away it seems, to go back to what used to be “normal!”

How I long for the normal.

April 14

I feel a new sense of solidarity, and pride, almost, when I see others wearing a mask. That we’re all in this together. At the same time, it removes us from each other. The small smiles I make to passersby go unnoticed, my expression is concealed. I try my best to say hello with my eyes, tilt my head. The neighborhood is both intimate and impersonal. It is at once the place we all call home, yet we are mostly strangers to one another. I feel known in my home, and as soon as I step out of my driveway I become unknown, everyone around me is unknown. When we wear masks, everyone becomes blank. Unreadable.

April 17

There’s a clear distinction between inside and outside. Safety; danger. Family; strangers. Comfort; discomfort. All our time spent indoors, broken only by the one excursion we make to take a walk or get food. Everything else is brought inside.

Inside the blue house, we can say what we like and wear what we please. Outside the blue house, we put on armor. A mask. Gloves. Shoes, too. Sunglasses, or a hardened gaze. People appear more like figures, shapes without faces.

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Tulia Fargis ’23

New Paltz, New York

Friday

When I come to America, always the most shocking thing is seeing how friendly people are to each other, how random people in the grocery store help you out, how cashiers ask how you are doing. But that is no more. Now in America everyone is anxious, unfriendly with fear of contamination. This unfriendliness is familiar to me, I found peace in it, yet I wonder how other Americans feel about this. I wonder if they normally find happiness in speaking to others, and how the coronavirus has taken this away from them. The most painful thing to hear about in the news is how people are not able to see their dying parents, because of contamination. Imagine not being able to see your dying mother, never being able to say your last goodbye.

I used to appreciate the outdoors, but hated actually going into it. But recently the outdoors is all I can think about. I used to love staying in my room and watching shows, but now I grab at any chance to leave the house. Sitting outside and having lunch was very soothing. Even at this terrible time, nature stays the same, the birds still chirp, squirrels still scavenge for food and cows still graze the grass. It’s so weird to watch nature keep going completely unaffected as humans descend into chaos. There’s a certain beauty to how the world functions without or without us.

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Clarissa Madar ’23

San Francisco

April 12

My friend and I went to the mailbox to mail some letters, a short walk across the street. We tied bandanas around our faces and brought a towel to open the mailbox with. Although bandanas aren’t really a form of protection, it was a performance for the rest of the neighborhood. About half of the few people we came across were wearing masks, and half were not. Cars zoomed by on the major streets, leaving the rest deserted. The city was empty. We walked a few blocks in this quiet, noticing the architecture of the houses because there wasn’t anything polluting the street distraction-wise.

Coming back inside is jarring. My body feels contaminated, despite not having touched anything. The outside itself feels contaminated, and I wash my hands twice while taking the bandana off of my face. It occurs to me that I’ll need to wash it before I can feel comfortable going outside again, a restriction placed on my mobility and peace of mind. The outside is empty regardless, devoid of commerce and the things that normally make up city life.

Monday, April 13, 2020

I had a dream that I was walking around and even in the dream I was conscious of contamination—I tried not to touch my face after touching any other surfaces. The habitus of quarantine has made its way into the deeper parts of my subconscious.

April 16

I’ve become incredibly aware of every siren I hear from out of my window. It’s as if all other ailments have melted away. Somehow, I know it’s the virus. This knowledge is implicit. Even if the fire department is going to extinguish a fire or help someone having a heart attack, to me it is the presence of the virus again, inescapable. . . .

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Zoe Marchand ’23

Saint Paul, Minnesota

April 2

I woke up at 2 a.m. last week to the sound of gunshots and found that my house had been shot multiple times, one of the bullets landing in my living room downstairs, and one hitting the wall in my room, then landing in the pillow that I was sleeping on, about two inches from my head. Even now, weeks later, the shock of this event hasn’t hit me.

After the “shooting,” as we now call it in my family, my life has certainly changed. My neighborhood, the East Side of St. Paul, Minnesota, is somewhat colloquially considered “the hood,” or a place of more frequent criminal activity than the rest of the city. After living here for 18 years, that seemed like somewhat of an overstatement to me; I’ve never felt unsafe, never scared to walk my dog at night or go to the park alone. Now, even the sound of a car door at night keeps me awake. What used to be a joke, “Was that a firework or a gunshot?” is now a reality, and it has completely altered the way that my family and I view our home. It is no longer a comfortable, danger-free place, one with unstained childhood memories. Now, it is a place where cops take photos, we clean up plaster, and I cover a bullet hole with a Post-it note so I can sleep at night. 

April 4

This house doesn’t feel like my home anymore. I felt at home at Reed, in my dorm and on the campus itself, so coming home, even for breaks, this house has felt somewhat foreign. It is not the center of my life anymore; it is a container for memories, something stuck in the past and not the present, so when I’ve visited, it’s felt wrong to be here. As my dad said, it felt like I was already at the airport, ready to leave, even when I had just got home.

But now, there’s an added sense of contention towards this house. I didn’t want to return here so soon, and especially, I didn’t want to be forced to be here constantly, without an escape. I’m almost mad at the house itself, for forcing me back here and keeping me trapped. And, in combination with feeling trapped, I also have lost a sense of safety and comfort here. Not only am I angry with the house, but I’m unsettled, uncomfortable being here in the dark. Not only was a sense of home taken away from this house when I found a new home in Portland, but now comfort and safety, two aspects which I find to be integral to the concept of home, are missing.

Despite all of this, I am stuck here with no foreseeable escape. I am trapped in a home that is not a home anymore, and I can feel that in the way I interact with it. I never used to turn on lights to get a midnight snack; I didn’t feel the need to lock doors and windows when I was home alone with earbuds in; I didn’t squint at the walls of the house when I walked by it to look for dents. I trusted the house, and now I find that I don’t, which makes me think about how a home is defined. Is it as simple as trust? Is that all I’m missing at this point? As of yet, I haven’t come to a conclusion on this, but as I look at the half-finished patch on my bedroom wall, I keep thinking.

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Sarah Brownlee ’23

Cincinnati, Ohio

April 8

I go on a walk. It’s hot today. A man stands on his porch, Ohio flags on either side. Governor DeWine told us to hang our American and Ohio flags to show unity against the virus. Gee whiz.

I eat lunch. The dishwasher is running.

I call a classmate with whom I’m working on a project. As with every virtual meeting, we check in with each other first. She has just moved into a house near campus with seven others. She’s doing alright, but is dealing with a lot.

I watch the Hum lecture. I try to pay attention (it’s an interesting lecture), but I can’t focus. I keep it playing in the background as I write.

I bake a Passover pavlova as Dad makes salmon and Jack finishes up the matzo ball soup. David unloads the dishwasher.

And now, for something completely different: Zoom Seder. I had been looking forward to being home for Seder, but every silver lining has its cloud. All five branches of the family have printed out the same Haggadot, and Mom has sent everyone funny Pesach videos (“Matzo Man,” a parody of the Village People’s “Macho Man,” is my personal favorite). We prop Dad’s phone up on a music stand, and I choose a seat that will keep me off camera. Then, a curveball. Mom asks Jack, David, and me to get our phones and prop them up on the (beautifully set) dinner table so that “people can see when we’re reading,” thoroughly breaking the “no phones at the dinner table” rule. We protest, David loudest of all. Mom takes David into the other room to yell, so that the others on the Zoom call don’t see it.

Normal Seders, in my house, are filled with bad jokes and quick asides. This time, whenever any of us talks, we get The Look from Mom. Jack and I have to make do with glances.

We leave the meeting, and the fog lifts. We eat until we’re bursting (two soup courses!!) and then we have dessert. We sing songs and drink wine. We all clean up together. It’s kind of lovely, and kind of normal.

The family begins to settle down. Rain starts to fall. Everyone’s in bed, despite the crazy lightning. I’m in the shower when I hear the hail. Then Jack knocks on my bathroom door. “Tornado warning.” We gather in the basement, turn on the TV. Brightly colored diagrams flash on every channel. The weatherman is barely pausing to breathe. 4,000 without power in the tristate area. Then 28,000. If there’s no power, there’s no Wi-Fi, and no way to charge our laptops. If there’s no power, there’s no way for us to attend class. There’s no way for my mom to see clients, or for my dad to go to meetings. Power’s out in Kenwood, 15 minutes away. Funnel clouds spotted in northern Kentucky. The storm passes over, and our warning ends at 11 p.m., half an hour later. We go upstairs to somewhat lighter rain. Dad shows David the hailstones in the backyard. We all express worry, but, as Mom says, “There’s nothing we can do about it.” Seems to be that way with a lot of things.

The dishwasher is running.

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Finding Ways

Kyle Petersen ’23

Vista, California

My friends and I recently watched a broadcast of the Met Opera production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten together via text message. What surprised me most about this experience was how similar it felt to having them in the room. I think that this is so, in part, because when you are with one another watching some sort of media you don’t really talk to one another. That made communicating via text feel natural. The only thing that was really missing was the physical presence of them being in the room with me. We could still know that we were experiencing something together at the same time, just not in the same place. It made me think about why movie theaters are social spaces. Why would you take a group of friends somewhere where, by nature of the space, you can only be social nonverbally?

The most natural answer to me is that it gives a common ground for future discussion, and it brings everyone “to speed” on popular culture. This is just one example of the variety of rituals that we perform in our everyday lives that do not necessarily need to be done in the manner that we normally perform them. It will be interesting to see what returns to normal, and what does not. In essence, we will see which activities must remain physically social, and which we can identify as the more superfluous physical gatherings. 

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Lydia Mead ’22

Dartmouth, Massachusetts

April 5. Dreams

Just before I woke up today, I hugged an old friend. In my dream, I entered a sparsely populated auditorium, where a lecture about the virus was just ending. She was sitting alone, and taking notes, and I felt such happiness and comfort upon seeing her. I stood in the back, waiting for her to get up, see me, and walk towards me. Which she did, smiling. And as she approached, she asked: “Can I hug you?” The question was laden with our shared understanding of the implications of physical contact, of even physical proximity, under this “New Normal.” But in this moment, we both needed physical comfort more than we needed our space. “Yes,” I said, sinking into the word with such relief. And we hugged, tightly, and I remember grasping the top of her shirt, near her neck. And I remember the warmth of the embrace, and how we shifted, but didn’t let go. And then I woke up.

April 11. Self-at-home

At Reed, I was coming to know myself within the roles of person-in-the-world, college student, friend, peer, etc. I was coming to know myself as an independent person; the circumstances granted me a sense of freedom. In this freedom, I was developing a stronger sense of self, and a way of being that felt truer to me. I was coming to know myself through my daily interactions, and through the way I spoke. These interactions, and this language, were continuously created through the common context that I shared with the people around me. I was coming to know myself, in a way that felt right, as myself-at-Reed.

When this situation shook me up and sent me home, I felt lost inside myself. Living at home feels like it diminishes my role of person-in-the world. Taking virtual classes twists my role as a college student into a strange version of its former iteration. I communicate regularly and deeply with my friends, but I am no longer surrounded by them. My peers are squares on a screen, scattered across the world. I am dropped—disoriented—back into the role of daughter, a role that I barely know how to perform. I am dropped—disoriented—back into the role of sister. I am dropped—disoriented—back into the role of member-of-a-family-unit, and member-of-a-household. The first time I looked in the mirror upon arriving home, I felt such confusion. 

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Eleazar Birke ’23

Portland

March 25

My dad touched on something interesting at dinner. While he wants me to collaborate with the rest of the family to do chores around the house, he wants to make sure that the family dynamic doesn’t regress to a pre-college state.

This made me realize in an odd way that I’m in an in-between point, and I’m not sure how to fall into either extreme. I’m somewhere between home and college, because my house doesn’t exactly feel like home. I’ve gotten rid of all my possessions from the past, and nearly have nothing I didn’t acquire in college. Because of this, my room doesn’t feel like it used to be, but my belongings don’t feel like they’re from my dorm room either. My school friends are away, but because of quarantine I can’t see my friends from before college.

In all aspects of life, I feel segregated between two sections of my life: the “adult” one, as it were, where I answer to and am responsible for myself, and a childlike one, where I do what I’m told, have meals made for me that I eat with my family.

March 30

The house has gotten complicated, as my sister has been taking after my sleep schedule but with a bit of a twist: she’s going to bed at 2 a.m. like I am, but instead of waking up at 9 a.m., she’s waking up at 2 p.m. Needless to say my parents don’t love that, and have been fighting with her on the topic of getting to sleep earlier and waking up at a normal time. Because of that, tensions have been a little high in the household, which is a minefield to work with. 

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Veda Gujral ’23

San Francisco

April 14

Today I met with a friend of mine who is the only person outside of my household I have been seeing regularly. In theory, we implement the rules of six feet of distance and no passing back and forth of objects such as our phones. However, in practice, these guidelines are not enough to remove us from our habitual dynamic of walking close by each other and sharing things, as is common behavior for most people when they are interacting with one another.

Whenever the severity of the current public climate slips our mind and I hand her my phone to show her a photo or veer towards her as our conversation deepens when strolling down the sidewalk, we both realize that we have committed an atrocity and vow to be more careful.

This new mode of engagement exemplifies an idea that Michel Foucault delineated in Discipline and Punish. Foucault describes how we exist in a world where each member of it, through consistent social conditioning from a higher-authority figurehead or larger power, becomes set to one uniform standard of being and acting. Eventually, this social structure replicates itself through those members, as they, once subjects of a disciplinary superior, begin to police one another.

The way that we negotiate our interactions with one another during this pandemic suggests a real manifestation of this system of being. As people of the worldwide social sphere, we receive compelling commands and instructions from those deemed as “leaders” and “in control,” so that we begin to compulsively maneuver our interhuman behaviors in a way that adheres to that higher power; we monitor and regulate one another. 

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Una Lynch ’23

San Francisco

April 20

Today I signed up for my first-choice classes for next year. It was hard to be motivated with all the uncertainty we are facing. I don’t know if school will be online in the fall or not. If it is online I don’t think that I will continue with Reed—instead I will take some time off. But what can I do? If all colleges are online I likely won’t have job opportunities either. It is hard to know what is to come in the following months. Never before have I not been in control of my life and been unable to plan ahead. All we can do as a society is to speculate and prepare for what may come next, but there is no way to know.

Today I found out the first person I knew with COVID-19 had died. He is in New York and I don’t know him well, but everything is starting to feel more personal. I am worried about my grandparents. Talking on the phone with my grandmother today, she does not seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation. I am worried she is not taking the right precautions. It is hard because she lives alone, she wants to go out and be with the world.

I don’t know what it would be like to live alone during a time like this. The people around me have helped me keep going in this hard time and bring some joy and laughter. My family and I sat around the kitchen table after dinner until late into the night, listening to music and talking with one another. Our parents told my brother and I about their lives together before we were born. It was a bonding moment that I truly appreciate.

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Emma Jane Haas ’22

Los Osos, California

April 9

I washed the windows this weekend,

Sprayed them down and wiped away grime

I danced along the bench, balanced as if on a stool,

Reaching for uppermost corners of dirty glass

I hopped along wooden floor, swept up crumbs from

Yesterday’s breakfast, last night’s dinner

All the while, Rumours blasting—“Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom”

Smiling faces help me mop, each one

A notch on our collective totem,

This house has been cleared and cleaned.

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Amrita Sawhney ’22

Sullivan Hall, Reed College

Think of yourself as a painting. Think about when you paint. Acrylic on canvas. There is never a point in time where the painting is definitively complete. There are only paintings that you have chosen to stop working on.

There are however, many points in time where the painting appeared beautiful in one area or another but you kept putting more paint on the canvas to change any areas that were less than. And with those changes, the parts that you thought beautiful before appear different afterwards, sometimes requiring their adjustment. So you are not allowed to get too attached to any part of the painting, no matter how much you like it.

Some things have to change regardless of whether you want them to, but most of the time, the change can only take place with your permission. Then there’s Leonardo da Vinci, who rarely “finished” a project. After he died, the Mona Lisa was stolen several times and altered, specifically, in dimension and therefore content.

So even when you are the only one putting paint to canvas, you are never the only one creating. Every perception changes your decisions and the way you view the painting because everyone views the painting in their own different way. So maybe what is on the canvas matters less than what isn’t on the canvas. What is there will be appreciated (or loathed) by someone, but what isn’t there yet cannot be recognized at all.

Enjoy the process of painting.

 

Editor's Note: Some of the names in this post are pseudonyms.

Tags: Covid-19, Students