N.W., 20, a student in Chicago, IL

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I have a lot of bad habits that I’ve been trying to get rid of for a while. Well, I wouldn’t call of them bad habits, but they aren’t all good.

As soon as I received that email on Friday, March 6th from the university stating that the remainder of Winter Quarter would be virtual, my levels of motivation to do work dropped. Normally, I spend Friday nights in my room, the library, or a coffee shop catching up on homework and getting ahead for the following week. It’s nice because Friday nights are when the libraries are the quietest. I can sprawl my books and bags across two desks instead of one and jam out to music without the worry that someone will walk by. However, that Friday, I dropped my work and went to the ceramics studio with a friend to spend several hours catching up and learning how to throw a simple vase. We talked about what we had been up to over the past several months and discussed the uncertainty ahead of us. We were both excited, unsure, but ready for the heaviness of schoolwork to be lifted from our shoulders. A breath of fresh air and time to breathe is exactly what just about everyone in the school could use in the weeks leading up to finals. It was that evening when we planned to continue throwing and glazing in the following weeks. The next day, the ceramics studio closed down, and my parents booked a one-way ticket for me to return home.

I feel a little conflicted saying that this pandemic brought a breath of fresh air as I wear a cloth mask over my face. How is it that a virus that contaminates the air we breathe also brings clean air for the first time to the world’s most polluted cities? But I digress. Even though we didn’t end up getting to finish any of the vases we started, the breath of fresh air was still there. We returned to our small towns on opposite sides of the country and learned to adjust. Instead of pottery, we found other ways to keep ourselves busy. Painting, binge-watching Netflix series instead of attending lectures, playing music virtually, and baking are just a few.

I started writing this piece with the intention of talking about the bad habits I’ve been trying to kick but ended up elsewhere. I think that sums up a bit of what I expected to happen during this quarantine. At the beginning, I intended on setting goals for myself and accomplishing them with the infinitely growing amount of time that shelter-in-place has given me. However, I find that it takes me a little longer to finish a PSET or submit an assignment as I get side-tracked talking to my mother about the changes she makes to her banana bread recipe. Slowly, but surely, however, I’ll get there.

Back to my bad habits. My worst habits always happen in bed. No, I’m not seeing anyone – I just have bad sleeping habits. I’ll talk about three of them here.

For several years, I was a big stomach sleeper. And for years, I tried kicking that habit. Naturally, stomach sleepers develop a lot of issues with their back, neck, spine, and often breathing. I told myself that as an otherwise healthy young individual, I was going to become a back sleeper before I get too old. Several months ago, I ended up getting a surgery done on my chest that required me to sleep on my back. Now, I can’t fall asleep unless I am face up. However, I can guarantee you that getting surgery isn’t the solution to fixing bad habits.

When I returned home, I told myself I would do a better job of putting in my retainer before I go to sleep. I spent too much money on these pearly whites for them to go out of line. I mean with all this extra time, there really isn’t anything stopping me from practicing good oral hygiene. Sadly, I haven’t worn that retainer in weeks. But I’ll do it eventually … I’ve just been sidetracked.

My worst habit when I sleep happens with my ankles. I always cross my ankles in bed and can’t seem to sleep unless they are one on top of the other. It’s upsetting because poor circulation to the feet has been implicated to other health problems. However, I realized that I’ve finally been able tackle goals that are more health related because of the shelter-in-place. Normally, I am not the one to go for a run or count my calories. I’ve always put my health on the back burner. But I’ve realized that if I don’t start now, I may never get to it.

The quarantine has given me time to get to so many things that I’ve placed on the back burner. My friends, my hobbies, and my health. I don’t think anyone would’ve asked for a global pandemic to happen, but I think a lot of us have found silver linings throughout. Even though we aren’t physically with our schoolmates, we have found time to reconnect with old friends. Even though the health of so many individuals are compromised, a lot of people have found time to re-focus on their health. Even though we are asked to wear masks when we leave our house, our air is cleaner from pollution than ever before. Why did a global pandemic need to happen for people to prioritize what is important to them?

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I took a class on Culture, Evolution, and Society in the Fall. In that class, we learned that during the great early human migrations, members of the Homo genus were very interested in exploration. We learned that they needed to have certain characteristics and abilities in order to efficiently travel long distances in a pneumonic known as the three F’s: Food, Friends, and Flexibility. While I’m sure that no one is traversing across the African, Asian, and European continents during this global pandemic, a lot of us are heavily relying on the three F’s that early migrants depended upon.

First, I will admit that I needed to check the midterm answer key from that class to make sure I didn’t butcher any of the facts. While perusing through the questions and remembering how poorly I did on that exam, I realized that the shelter-in-place has forced us to focus on what early humans relied on: dietary flexibility; other people for community, stability, friendship, and teaching; communication; and the ability to control and maintain fire. Okay, maybe not that last one. But the three F’s have really made a guest appearance in all of our lives. Here, I’ll outline the great comeback of food, friends, and flexibility.

Food. Especially college students, we have been acclimated to our dining hall food that’s often a hodgepodge of deliciously imperfect cuisines. Our stomachs exercised the same dietary flexibility that our ancestors needed to have in order to migrate. However, upon returning home, a lot of us were greeted with something we all longed for: our mothers’ home-cooked meals. At home, I’ve indulged in a bit too much rice along with some staple dishes filled with potatoes, cauliflower, okra, paneer, and bell peppers. After weeks of the same food, my family has quickly become fans of a local Asian restaurant that makes avocado maki rolls, Szechuan chicken, and of course plenty of rice. My sweet tooth cannot be controlled, and my mother has been happily helping me satisfy my cravings with banana bread, cakes, and cookies. For a lot of people, food has been a source of happiness, novelty, and stability.

Friends. Even though I physically haven’t seen my friends in over two months, the shelter-in-place has helped me re-kindle old friendships and strengthen my current ones. The early members of the Homo genus relied on friends for communication, stability, teaching, and community. I think many of us are glad that we live in the digital age, because communication does not seem to be a problem. I’ve been able to keep up with my friends through Zoom calls, group chats, and letters. Even though I haven’t been able to sit down with my friends over a meal to laugh about our day, I’ve found that I can still build community through this shared struggle. This pandemic has helped me realize who I care about and which friendships could last in the time of crisis.

Lastly, flexibility. I’m sure everyone has received a message or email praising their abilities to “remain flexible during these uncertain times” or something to that extent. Jokes aside, I do think it is worth patting ourselves on the back for. It’s not easy to stay inside all day, but it’s extremely necessary and admirable when we do. Although it may not feel grand, our simple act of social distancing is truly saving lives – and for that I think we deserve the applause. However, with that comes great responsibility. Even though we are asked to be flexible, we have the option to not be. As I sit by my window and stare outside while writing this, I’ve seen more than a handful of people walk by and interact with each other as if the virus isn’t applicable to them. I understand that it’s hard and that everyone has different circumstances, but all I ask is that we remember these three F’s and use them as guidance.

Even during a global pandemic, the Homo genus can be resilient just as early members were. And I promise that with food, friends, and flexibility, we will soon be able to continue travelling across the globe and exploring the beautiful undiscovered.

[submitted on 5/27/2020]

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Life in Quarantine: Witnessing Global Pandemic is an initiative sponsored by the Poetic Media Lab and the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis at Stanford University.

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