oh glorious routine

Mount holyoke seniors parade past Safford Hall holding a blue and white "2020" banner.

All day it’s felt like winter break. No, all day it’s felt like an interminable scene posing as winter break, not doing particularly well at it, because rather than leaving me warm it’s leaving me hollow. I did my usual routine today, the one I’ve grown intimately familiar with in this week that’s felt both like a year and an hour. I wake up late, make my coffee. Check my email. Write and/or read until the mid-afternoon. After eating something, I retreat to the outdoors –– not today, of course, but most days –– and walk my familiar street, grimace-smiling at the other isolators on the road, from whom I keep a safe, six-foot-plus distance.

(I met one fellow youth-who-should-be-on-campus on the sidewalk near a deserted neighborhood park. It was around 60º and a bit cloudy, with no young children in sight. When it became clear we were going to cross paths, I trespassed on several peoples’ lawns as he took to the road. I nodded at him. He raised his Monster energy drink to my nod.)

When I come home I take a shower. I return to my work: researching, writing, reading, editing. I keep up my daily practice of writing part of my novel manuscript. I keep my DuoLingo streak. I journal. I listen to a curated selection of podcasts, scrolling through the news-related pods in my feed and deleting them, delete everything to do with COVID, which is everything. Read a novel. Take trazodone and wait until I can’t stay awake anymore, and sleep, knowing I will perform the same motions the following day.

Many have commented that this should be an introvert’s paradise. The whole introvert/extrovert paradigm is a gross oversimplification of human behavior, a sort of “soft pathology” that allows us to participate in the act of diagnosis, removed from medico-psychiatric [author]ization; still, the label of “introvert” fits me well, and is a convenient shorthand for explaining my need to retreat from social life without resorting to the “hard” pathologization I’ve also experienced. Regardless, I strongly disagree with the idea that self-isolation of this kind is good for the introvert. Firstly, self-isolation in close quarters with excessively-social family members can be its own kind of hell, and I’m thankful not to have particularly social parents. Secondly, and more meaningfully, being quarantined by state compulsion is very, very different than choosing to “recharge.”

Perhaps a better metaphor for introversion in the face of pandemic is the laptop that’s been left on the charger at 100% for days.

Perhaps a better metaphor for introversion in the face of pandemic is the laptop that’s been left on the charger at 100% for days. I’m also guilty of doing this (right now, as I type). It’s overkill. It’s so much solace that you forget the solace around you, and thus it turns from solace to uncomfortable silence. Introversion makes itself known in the face of an inherently-social world, and without that world, such distinctions become a mockery of the former freedom they suggested. I no longer have what I now know is the luxury of retreating to a quiet space, able to emerge and move as I choose to when I’m ready. I no longer have the privilege of choosing not to attend a social gathering, of choosing not to visit my friends’ rooms. This relentless adherence to routine has been a replacement for that social time that all of us, “introvert” and “extrovert” alike, need in order to feel human.

The fact that I should be living in a dorm right now, and not in my comparatively-comfortable, quiet childhood bedroom, comes as a further blow. I am not sure how to write about this aspect of these past few weeks, but I am going to do the best I can, because it’s something worth addressing. I considered writing a post on my final semester of undergrad coming to an abrupt end, on my feelings about it and my heartbreak at being ripped from the college I called my home before I could say a proper goodbye. I think it’s an important story to tell, especially given that I got to see and participate in the sense of camaraderie that characterizes Mount Holyoke at its best in those final days of panic and uncertainty. Many tears were shed, many hugs given, and ultimately –– beautifully –– the student body, as well as professors and alumni, came together in an astounding act of compassion.

[W]e recognized ourselves not as a collection of individuals but a dynamic organism whose collective health transcended yet remained contingent upon the well-being of each component-member.

It was a beautiful, special thing. I was working with other students to plan what became the master spreadsheet for those in need of money, storage, and alternative housing as campus closure seemed assured. It worked. Students and alumni and friends inconvenienced them/ourselves for each other, as a community ought to in times of crisis –– we recognized ourselves not as a collection of individuals but a dynamic organism whose collective health transcended yet remained contingent upon the well-being of each component-member. Similar things have happened around the world and across social media, with the anarchist principle of mutual aid entering normative political discourse and the once-mocked notion of UBI being given serious airtime. Where institutions fail (and they always do, and their failure is the most severe in times of crisis which require selfless humanity at the expense of profit) we are able to come together.

More than just compiling spreadsheets, students and alumni at Mount Holyoke pulled together a Laurel Parade –– an annual tradition in which graduating seniors walk across campus in white to much fanfare –– and faux-commencement ceremony complete with live musical numbers, all within 72 hours. It couldn’t totally replace the traditions we as seniors deserve/d. We will never get that experience, even if we do get a make-up ceremony “once this all blows over.” But the scrappy imitation-ceremony we did get was something special, a real thing all its own, and I treasure it: I have grown to treasure it even more as my days now begin to melt into one another, as I look ahead to what feels more like a long summer than a senior spring.

What were these final, large-scale rituals preceding our isolated routines actually like? The Laurel Parade carried an atmosphere of frenetic joy and great, great sadness. I could not cry. I was numb. But I was also happy, and I marched with my friends and everyone seemed to walk with an attitude I can only describe as “fuck it.” We had an incredible turnout, despite already-existing suggestions to restrict group meeting numbers. I wore the white shirt I had bought to wear in May. Alumni –– notified hardly two or three days prior –– arrived at the event with blue accessories to distribute to the class of 2020. Underclassmen, professors, and parents cheered for us. It was all meaningful and meaningless at the same time. For the entirety of the event, I felt like I was screaming down an empty hole, as if making enough sound would finally fill it.

The commencement ceremony, apparently, was not supposed to happen. We did it anyway. I almost cried several times, laughed several more. That was my last day on campus, and I knew that after that day nothing would be the same –– it wasn’t, it hasn’t been. Even what would be my final week of undergrad was not the same as all the weeks before: Most of my classes were either cancelled or skipped. I watched my peers sobbing into their phones en masse. We sat around waiting for too-late administrative emails, assembling support in the face of institutional failure. Many struggled to get work done; I clung to mine like a lifeline.

I still do. I will continue to. Just like I will cling to my routine, and clung to these simulated graduation traditions as a way of reminding myself that these 3.75 years have led to something. Something, that is, other than the potential of months stuck at home, staring out at the senior spring and joyful summer I could have had. Sitting here, feeling the curl of the monkey’s paw as I remember how I wished for spring break, for relief from the relentless noise of communal living, the pressure to be “on” more than I could handle. From shared traditions we turn to the daily patterns that keep us from snapping, and from the delights of solitude we get social isolation.

There is joy here and there is humanity doing its best, and there are the comforts of what we know. But it is all against an incredibly cold backdrop. I had my graduation, but summer seems like a lifetime away.

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