A song that encapsulates my current mood: “En Gallop” by Joanna Newsom
Listen while you read! Or don’t!
The Oberlin academic schedule is kinda wonky this year, with a one-week winter break and two weeks of classes after the break before finals. When I went back home everybody was asking how my semester wrap-up went, and upon hearing that I still had two weeks of classes and finals people were shocked. All classes are remote-accessible, as was the original plan for Oberlin, but with new covid variants and cases rising, many more students are choosing the remote option. I have been attending my classes on zoom since I have not gotten my covid test results back yet, and because I haven’t felt like facing the frigid weather to go to an in-person class. Additionally, most of my friends are either not coming to campus until winter term or the spring semester, or have not arrived yet, so campus feels pretty empty to me. Because of this, I have a lot more free time than I typically do and spend a good amount of said time in my dorm room trying to figure out what to do. So what have I been doing? Below I will explore a day of events (or a week’s worth condensed into one day for the sake of this post, since I haven’t been up to much).
8:55 am: I wake up to my blaring alarm clock and quickly shut it off to avoid disturbing my roommate. Groggily, I get out of bed and pull on some jeans and a t-shirt. I don’t bother doing anything before I click the zoom link for my Introduction to Neuroscience class. The professor is experiencing some technical difficulties and can’t get her screen to be shared without activating an Inception-like cascade of zoom window within zoom window within zoom window. Eventually, she resolves the issue and class begins. The zoom camera view from the lecture hall shows roughly two students who are actually in the physical classroom. Everyone else joins on zoom. I write down notes and ponder if I really should be a neuroscience major.
9:50 am: I scroll on my phone. I am a true screenager. Stress and anxiety make me uncomfortable and unwell, and the pandemic surely provides a lot of both and a sprinkle of instability on top. To remedy this, I look at my phone. Watching cooking videos and people doing silly things provides a semblance of structure and makes me feel secure that the strange stupid beauty of the human race is eternal.
10:30 am: I whip on my large winter coat and walk to Slow Train, a local coffee shop. Usually, it is really busy at peak times in the morning like now, but currently, it is as empty as it has been the few times I have gone at 7:30 in the morning. Walking back to my room, there is an air of melancholy.
10:55 am: I grab my tupperware, spork, and water bottle and head to the Third World Co-op (TWC) kitchen in Baldwin, a short walk across a grassy bowl from Harkness, the building I live in. I meet my fellow co-oper and head cook for the meal, put on a hairnet and apron, wash my hands, and begin to cook. We make rice, tofu, stir-fried mushrooms, oven-roasted brussel sprouts, and vegan blood orange olive oil cake. I hand squeeze about eight blood oranges to get enough juice for the cake and glaze to top it.
12:20 pm: People begin to arrive for the meal. We bring out trays of covered food and make saveplates for the people who can’t make it to the designated meal time but still need food. The cake is still baking, so people plop food into their to-go containers and eagerly wait for the cake to bake. With new Obie Safe guidelines, all food options have to be grab and go, including co-ops, so we take food to go and eat in our rooms. I chat with people and we lament that the brief time that we serve ourselves food is the only social interaction we get since we are all trying to be cautious before we receive a confirmed negative covid test result. We pour chocolate milk into plastic cups that we will take with us to our rooms. We make light conversation, but don’t talk for too long before we leave the co-op. We feel sad that we no longer can talk and laugh with each other over a meal. Luckily, I have a roommate so I’ve been able to socialize during meals (and zoom classes) which helps me not feel too isolated.
1:30 pm: I join another zoom meeting for Statistics and Modeling. I sit at my desk and watch the silly little numbers be interpreted by statistical software, namely the dreaded RStudio. To try to stay focused, I knit a balaclava (a hat-hood hybrid like a thneed for your head).
2:30 pm: Harp practice! Recently I’ve been obsessed with Joanna Newsom (evidenced by the song mood at the beginning of this post). I have a small harp that I bought last year. The prospect of owning a harp helped me get through the rough spring semester, and blogging helped me gain the money to purchase it. Before we left for winter break this year, and things were uncertain about the state of in-person college, I had to decide if I should leave my harp at Oberlin and risk not being able to return to it in January, or bring it with me on the plane and add a layer of chaos to my travel plans. I chose to leave it here, partially because my flight was so early in the morning that I could not handle bringing my harp with me. Over break, I practiced songs I wanted to play on the harp on the piano, hoping the skills would roughly transfer. Now that I am back at Oberlin and constantly in my dorm room, I find myself playing much more frequently than I ever have while in school. I take a 30-minute opportunity before zoom class or when I have nothing better to do and play. The harp is a very soothing instrument to listen to and play, and it really truly calms me down, so it has been a fantastic resource for me during this time.
3:30 pm: Homework? Or something. Zoom class makes me think school is fake. Also, the short winter break was not enough for me to feel rested and rejuvenated for the rest of the semester. The amount of emails I have gotten that start with “I hope you were able to relax and recharge over the break” is astounding, and every time I read those emails I think: I wish. Starting and completing school work has been harder for me (and others) right now, but luckily many professors understand and are tired themselves so my workload has been light. Or maybe since I haven’t been able to spend much time with friends I have had more time to work on assignments.
4:30 pm: I head to the TWC kitchen again, early so I can get started on some naan dough. I rush between the dry-food storage area and the kitchen, grabbing ingredients and trying to figure out what I am doing. Once I get the dough sorted, my two cooks arrive to help me cook dinner. We make chickpea, buttercup squash, kale, bell pepper, coconut milk curry; brown rice; and naan.
6:20 pm: People serve themselves, I grab a cup of apple cider, and return to my room to eat.
7:00 pm: Oberlin Workshop and Learning Session (OWLS) time! This semester, I am an OWL for Chemistry 101, meaning I serve as a peer mentor that attends classes and hosts two sessions a week with my co-OWL to review chemistry material covered in class. This week, they have an exam covering topics I think are really quite difficult, including some organic chemistry. To prepare our OWLettes for the test, my co-OWL and I made a worksheet and a Kahoot with review questions. The session is on zoom, to accommodate remote students and to not have too many people congregate in a small classroom. We start with the Kahoot because it is more fun, and I sit at my desk talking into a screen, hoping that someone will volunteer to share why they got the answer they did for the Kahoot question. After an awkwardly long amount of silence, someone unmutes and shares. It feels productive.
9:05 pm: I go back to the TWC kitchen. I forgot to soak beans while I was there last. Soaking the beans is an essential part of cooking dry beans in a timely manner. It is funny how much I have said: “I gotta go soak some beans” or texted my friends “I forgot to soak the beans” or put in my Google Calendar “soak beans” since I have been in a co-op. I pour black beans into a pot and cover them with water because for some inexplicable reason we have three 25 pound bags of black beans in the dry-foods room and no one cooks black beans that often so I thought I’d try to make a dent in the beans.
9:30 pm: What now? Earlier in the semester, at night I often found myself in a social situation that I did not want to leave, which caused me to go to bed later than my body and brain hoped I would. But now, I find myself in my room with nothing to do except schoolwork that I don’t want to do. So I play the harp again or read for leisure or go on my phone or blog (like I’m doing right now!) or just go to bed early. It is weird to be back. Good but weird. The air of campus is very low-energy right now, and we are all existing in a strange hybrid limbo state. But this emptiness and calm is providing me with a space to reflect and appreciate the relative quietness of Oberlin. To everyone reading this, stay safe, stay sane, and try to find small moments of joy!
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