Dear LUC Department of English Community,
My actual COVID-19 journal has been a whirlwind of ups and downs, so it’s valuable to be able to summarize events in a smaller piece for the Journal of a Plague Year. Like many of my graduate peers, I was teaching an undergraduate course in Spring 2020. When the university moved classes online, I often forgot my own panic when viewing complicated individual struggles my students bravely confronted while helping each other cope and study. Our weekly classes soon became something of a support group. We made COVID-19 journals connecting events in the news from March to April 2020 with similar events surrounding class, race, and cultural encounters in the nineteenth century, which affected people then far more severely. We found that these issues are still present and intensified during times of national crisis. Attacked at once on so many personal fronts, spatially, financially, ideologically, we found verbalizing our thoughts and feelings to be helpful, but still inadequate in the face of calamity and hate.
Like others, I have realized anew that action is necessary if the world, and this country, can move forward to an improved civic responsibility and love of all humanity. My family members and friends have experienced deaths, losses, and mental breakdowns. A young friend died unexpectedly, arguably only because busy hospitals dismissed what appeared to be a mild injury. I’ve experienced fear during my mother’s successful bout with COVID-19 in a nursing home, a virus that her two roommates and another resident friend sadly did not survive. Multiple friends have been infected, directly owing to others’ refusals to wear masks or social distance. It’s been baffling to witness firsthand how little some people care about the safety of the whole community in comparison to the instant gratification of individualism.
Weirdly, there have been some good times in 2020. When my sister’s university also moved online, I spent precious time with her in quarantine, both of us alternately screaming “Sorry, YOU go ahead!” and “You’re NOT muted!” at our respective computer screens. Using materials accessible through the wonderful LUC Libraries website and other online databases, I’ve written a lot, both on my dissertation and on other projects. Besides beginning a new cross-stitch sampler, I’ve tried my hand at growing vegetables…and will NEVER quit my day job! Over Zoom, I’ve caught up with friends and have used its platform, with others, to design, hold, and support several international virtual conferences to preserve valuable museums and charities. Through the internet, I’ve also been able to attend multiple events like the Harper Dickens Conference (Dickens Universe) that would have been financially impossible for me otherwise.
Watching how other humans have reacted to the isolation and financial crunch has been revealing, but also unexpectedly inspiring. Former students are forging ahead with plans or demonstrating resilience and flexibility as they channel their energies elsewhere. Despite the ongoing crisis, a friend has inspired me by going on a crusade to end medical debt in her area, using social media to powerfully transform lives and create feelings of hope and fresh beginnings. Especially after the events of the last months, I am intensely grateful for my courageous friends, opportunities to enjoy life, and for the vote I have already cast.
I miss all my friends at the Department of English, whether current, graduated, or in residence, and hope to see you again very soon!