After the COVID-19 pandemic sent most everyone home for the rest of the spring semester, all Princeton students had to re-adjust to living and working in a home environment that was distinctly different from the routines of normalcies of campus life. We asked our writers to reflect on their experiences at home in any way that they wished. Included here are some responses from the Nass community chronicling aspects of their life in quarantine.
Getting to Work
In the days leading up to our departure from campus, when none of us were sure what would ensue, I dreamed of weeks of previously unimaginable free time. I hoped to occupy myself by reading, writing stories or articles, playing guitar, cooking, and getting back into running. In short, I wanted to engage in everything that I, a Princeton student, “had no time for”—a frequent excuse within a school routine in which I regularly make the time to get infuriated at CNN, play Tetris on my computer, or partake in roundtable discussions with my peers where we bemoan the impossibly packed nature of our oh-so-busy schedules. Hoping to return to all my favorite hobbies, I prepared to reintegrate into a new kind of family life, one where I would have to re-habituate myself to old routines in a new space (my family has moved houses twice in the past two years) and as a largely new person, with updated political views and music tastes and preferences for the length of my facial hair.
En route home, I tried to envision some sort of plan, one where I would organize my time efficiently and generously. I took stock of my guitars, dusting off and restringing the ones that had lain unplayed in their cases over the preceding months. I unpacked all the books I had brought back down from school, barely squeezing all the prose onto my bookshelf but having to stack the poetry on the floor. I looked through my mom’s cookbooks, and I even bought some new shoes. By the end of quarantine, I would emerge as nothing less than a well-read cultural warrior, a man of guitar mastery and numerous original poems—and a well-fed and physically-fit one at that. Classes? you ask. Bah. Those would take care of themselves, now largely from the comfort of my home. What was more important was to use this time as an unexpected period of moral and spiritual training, from which I would emerge a wiser, gentler human.
By the end of weeklong spring break that buffered the coming of online learning, I already knew that quarantine would not be the Walden-esque woodshed I had imagined it would be. I had already lost so much of my time to reading political commentary from The New York Times or Jacobin or watching the death toll rise on CNN. When classes resumed, I did stop watching the President’s briefings, but I only replaced it with another binge of How I Met Your Mother. Spending the day on the computer, either “in class” or managing the requisite work sapped me of any remaining energy to devote to something wonderful. Couple that with the suspension of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, leaving the milquetoast Joe Biden as the apparent agent for change against political calamity that wracks the country—suffice it to say, I was tired.
Then the weather started getting warmer and the sun started going down later. I changed the tuning on one of my guitars and started messing around. I learned to make Italian spaghetti alla carbonara and Bolivian sopa de maní. We got new furniture for our back porch, more comfortable than even the lushest chairs of the Rockefeller Common room back at school, where I finally finished reading Moby Dick. In one way, I look back at the past few months as a spurt of lost time. That said, social interactions aside, how differently was I spending my time at home than I was at school? Had my priorities taken such a dip recently, or was I just now noticing a shift that had occurred long before?
At this point it hardly matters. What does matter is that this quarantine has become a chance for renewal, an opportunity to re-engage with what brought me to Princeton in the first place. I know that many are not as lucky as I have been, have not had the luxury to pass this pandemic so idly. All I can ask, then, is that I recognize my position, and use this recognition to get to work.
Maybe I’ll even start running.
Excerpts from a Brain on Pandemic
They say that dreams are getting more vivid, now that we’re stuck inside all the time and there’s nothing new to feed us. I say you’ve had some great ones, and so I look forward to your awakening more than I do my own, especially since it occurs halfway through the afternoon, when I’m already weary from another day of self-medicating, another bike ride where I crash, headfirst and reeling, into the fence they’ve set up to bar us from the cliffs. In the beginning I used to sit on the roof and do yoga, center my breathing and squint into the windows of apartments across the way to see if they had any signals to send. Now I mostly watch the planes. There’s an app on your phone that shows you where they’re coming from and where they’re going, and so now I know there’s one from Singapore that passes over my house most every seven o’clock. I guess there’s no one on it, though, and that’s actually more comforting than not these days, when the streets are full of people running but my head feels like that very empty canister.
As for my own dreams, though, I don’t think they’re any better than before. You’re still in them, of course, as I think you always will be, but the storylines are clouded, and my brain works hard to find something worse than what we’re living through. Like the other night your father died in mine, and I don’t know if that’s good or bad for you, but I still don’t want it to happen, just like I don’t want the past to come back, not really. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, how I say I want everything to return—go rollerskating again, and ride the midnight subway—but I don’t, do I, because if we really went back we would have to return here, too, and it’s all I can do to check off the days the first time.
So, so much for being sixteen again. We did it already, we wasted it, and now we’ll waste this too. It’s the way of things. I’ll keep growing but I’ll never get any taller, and I’ll keep falling asleep in the same bed I cried in the night I first left you, and I’ll keep wishing for the cure to all our endless selfishness, even though I already know the truth. It’s America, after all, or it’s eighteen, or it’s love.
The rhythmic cadence of Toni Morrison’s voice transforms her works from written pieces of prose into crystallizations of the oral tradition of storytelling embodied. In the past, or at least while I was at school, I was never a big listener of audiobooks. I guess theretofore audiobooks had always made me feel like I should be doing something as I listened– running on the treadmill, going for a walk, trying to fall asleep– and this made me feel anxious, unproductive, so I stuck to regular books. To listen to an audiobook for the sake of being told a story, to really do nothing but listen– this did not align with the benchmarks of speed and efficiency imposed by life on Princeton’s campus.
Now, I’m perfectly fine with listening to an audiobook just for the sake of being told a story. The aforementioned benchmarks of speed and efficiency have been undoubtedly and unprecedentedly slowed. So in my free time, when I want nothing more than to lie in bed, stare at the ceiling, and be told a story, I listen to audiobooks. More specifically, to Toni Morrison’s audiobooks. Because Toni Morrison’s audiobooks are narrated by none other than Toni Morrison herself. To have Morrison’s various masterworks of prose recorded in her voice– told in the way that she intended them to be told–is a treasure of the archive. Morrison’s voice transforms the written version of Beloved into a spoken performance– a triumph for the oral tradition of storytelling. In Jazz, Morrison’s written words are spoken with the lilted cadence of jazz music itself; her content matches her form seamlessly. To hear the experiences of Morrison’s characters laid out in her various works in her own voice produces an auratic experience worthy of one’s full-attention; these audiobooks are really nothing short of magical. It’s more than okay to sit back and do nothing but take in the rhythmic echoes of Morrison’s retellings. I’ve had the chance to do so, and it’s been one of the unexpected bright things to emerge from these slow, dark times.