A 2020 Graduate Student’s Perspective
In early 2020, the lives of people around the globe were suddenly uprooted as COVID-19 grew into a pandemic that has touched nearly every country. Worldwide, there have been at least 7.41 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and more than 418,000 people have lost their lives to the disease. In the face of a new and deadly contagion, the only choice was to implement stringent social distancing and isolation regulations.
When my program—the Writing and Publishing Masters of Fine Arts program at Vermont College of Fine Arts—announced that classes would be held virtually for the remainder of the semester, we had actually only just returned from spring break. As much as I love my program, I, as many students, at any level, will understand, I had a twinge of longing when spring break ended, for just a little more of a break. Never could I have imagined the scope of the changes that were about to uproot our lives and obliterate our pre-COVID routines. As lockdown measures are slowly lifted, although we must remain vigilant because of a possible increase in cases as restrictions are relaxed and a likely second wave looming in the future, it is important that we reflect on our times in isolation, on the traumas that people have endured over the past few months, and the way that the urgent bleakness of the pandemic, coupled with the loneliness of isolation, has affected our individual and collective psyches.
I am grateful to be a student right now, especially a student of creative writing. Though the isolation has lately taken a toll on my creative output, I, initially, wrote a lot more than usual because I didn’t know what else to do with the stress and loneliness I was feeling—with the helplessness that I felt as I sat in my room, knowing that the virus was claiming more and more lives, but also knowing that the only thing most of us could do to help was to stay home and practice social distancing and enhanced cleanliness.
I found myself tabling projects that were important to me before the pandemic, as though a wall had slammed down between myself before the pandemic started and after social distancing and lockdown measures had been implemented. I find it much harder now to write prose, especially creative prose, but poetry, albeit a lot of bad poetry, has poured from my fingertips. Somehow, the often fluidly disjointed nature of poetry is more effective at capturing how the past few months have felt: themselves fragmented, chaotic, and painful. The isolation, the helplessness, the frustration at the disregard for science and lack of compassion that many leaders and everyday citizens displayed, have often felt, for me, more intense and jarring than tidy words can express.
I was grateful to have classes, even if they were virtual, because they still kept a connectedness—a through-line—in this oddest of semesters, in this half-a-year which has felt more like its own decade. It was easier to remain focused, and to resist the urge to incessantly binge-watch television at odd hours of the day and night, with the readings, discussions, and writings that were required for my classes. It was a lot harder to do so once classes were over, though I am also thankful to live in a digital era, where we can still be connected, even while isolated.
During lockdown, I have actually reconnected with old friends and connected more frequently with my family, because we all suddenly have more free time and more time and reason to think about what is really important to us—love. Thanks to the digital sphere there is also an immense trove of readily available art and entertainment. For example, the United Kingdom’s National Theater has been uploading recordings of past productions, each for a week at a time. Although watching Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, directed by Josie Rourke, on my laptop is not at all the same as watching it in a theatre, it was still incredible to be able experience the intense and staggeringly relevant play from my room. Art has always been something that I lean on during hard times, and this pandemic is an enormously difficult time for many, if not most, of us.
Unfortunately, the virus is still active. The consequences of the pandemic, and of the choices of leaders and individual citizens, alike, to ignore scientific fact in favor of trendy conspiracy theories, charged with anti-science political catering and riddled with misinformation, are not yet fully realized. Although nothing can compare to the unimaginable pain that the families of victims, the survivors, and the essential workers—particularly medical workers—must be going through, the pandemic has been traumatic, in different ways, for so, so many of us. We have faced both collective and highly individual traumas, and the psychological toll of the pandemic cannot be ignored. Perhaps by staying safely connected and sharing our experiences, even the seemingly mundane tales of binge-watching TV, or counting the ripples on our walls, we can have more unity and, in time, some healing.