We’re living in a very different world since I last wrote. March 11th I was on my way to class, processing a flurried day in the office. It was becoming apparent something had changed overnight. The week before, Covid-19 had been a growing concern, but nothing to urgently handle. The following week, the world was beginning to tilt.
On the bus to St Catherine University, where I’m in my first semester of studying library and information science, a woman who works in a clinic was talking about the patients coming in who believed the might have Covid and the lack of regulations about how to test them. I scrolled through the headlines before class, terrified by the situation in Italy, in towns where my family is from.
Class was not normal – we were tense but we were happy to laugh. I felt connected to my classmates in a whole new way and all of us didn’t know what to expect next. By the time class let out, the news had broken that Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had been diagnosed with Covid-19, the rest of the NBA season was cancelled, and all of us expected that our classes would move fully online sooner rather than later. I walked home that night, feeling more comfortable being out in the balmy spring air rather than being on a bus, where I would feel enclosed and anxious. Walking home, I wondered when I would see my classmates again – I sincerely doubted it would be the next week.
Saturday, March 15th I volunteered at Quatrefoil Library, an LGBTQ+ member-based library in Minneapolis. The other volunteer and patrons who came in were all talking about the Corona virus. I was the youngest person present and listened to those who lived through the AIDS epidemic discuss once again facing unknowns. We were afraid but the community there was palpable – I could feel social connection we all shared. We needed to talk, to explain, to understand, to wonder.
It has been over a month now since I have been working from home, taking classes online, and wondering when Quatrefoil will be able to reopen. After that weekend, everything changed. Schools closed, public facilities limited the number of people who could be in them then closed entirely, restaurants began to close. This all feels new but also very familiar. I have read about the shuttered and closed towns during the Bubonic Plague and Yellow Fever. Our culture is saturated by dystopian stories of outbreaks and virus-based zombie apocalypse (I had been waiting to read the book Station Eleven for years and finally got around to reading it the same week that Covid-related deaths were skyrocketing in China. I regret this coincidence a great deal). Yet what is happening around us is entirely new. Shelves are bare of products in the United States in a way that many of us have been privileged to ever experience. We are battling a continually battery of unknowns while public outcry and political speculation of what we should and shouldn’t do continually buzzes in our ears. Ethics are suddenly a constant issue of reconsideration in my mind – is it better to buy my products through an online center and support a company I’m not fond of? Do I put their fulfillment center employees at risk? Do I instead go to the store and put the people who work there at risk? Do I begin to change my idea of the things I need and the things I can live without?
Every day feels like a week, each week a month. It’s only been a month, so who knows where we’ll all be by May, by June. It’s hard to think too far ahead right now. I feel caught in a mash-up of The Twilight Zone and The Good Place. I’m trying to remember all the things that make me very fortunate and privileged right now – I have a home, I have a job, I have friends and a partner who I can talk with and feel close to thanks to the amazing technology that just years ago wasn’t possible. I can have produce delivered to my door, I can have restaurants prepare food and I can walk a few block to pick it up. I can find friends who will make me masks and I can finally get around to watching every season of The Great British Bake-Off.
Until this week, I was almost enjoying social isolation. I started running again, I was cooking new foods, I was reading and watching TV and starting new hobbies. I had more time than I’d had before because I didn’t have to spend time commuting or taking a bus anywhere. Then this week, I realized I missed socializing, I missed being around people. And most of all, I missed not being afraid.
As a person with anxiety, I spend everyday struggling with fear. Usually, it’s not directed to a specific thing – it’s a cloudy sort of dread that forever hangs over my head. However, with Covid, there is a very specific thing to fear. This was a relief at first – finally, my unease had a reason. I felt prepared, vigilant, like a warrior who had been training for this all her life. Now, a month later, my anxiety no longer feels focused. It’s widespread and I’m worried about it encroaching on the drive and control I spent years developing. I can feel bits of agoraphobia and increased germophobia inch in. The unknowns keep increasing, making me wonder why I’m in grad school right now, why I’m still writing, why I bother getting dressed each day. I’m seeing the worst in people – those who feel the need to be superior and prove others wrong at every turn, those who prize money over people, those who deny logic and science and think this is all a scam, and those who believe brutally in the survival of the fittest.
During work today, I realized I was getting in my own head about things, so much so that I felt like a failure at things I knew well, that I had become toxic and was turning people away from me, that I was losing the ability to talk and empathize and understand. None of this was true and, after a run outside and lungsful of fresh air, I felt a lot better. And so I finally sat down and made myself write.
I knew I wanted to write about community here – libraries are community centers in many ways. Right now, our community centers have to be remote, distanced, online. I knew I wanted to find a way to keep engaged and use this blog while I’m remote and this week I’m seeing how vital that is. I’m hoping I can share the ways I’m learning and growing and persisting through all of this, while sharing what I’m doing to help keep myself engaged. I’ll make some recommendations, maybe do a little research and discuss some issues here. But most of all I want to make space for a community. I’m not sure how much of a readership here now that I’m transitioning this blog over to library science, but I’m grateful for anyone whose out there reading this. It’s easy to feel alone right now – easier than it ever has been for some of us – but I assure you that you are not alone.
I don’t pretend to know what’s going to happen. There are many models and they all have varied outcomes. What I do know is that our lives will not be the same ever again. Our world has changed for good – and with it our libraries. And so, I’m here to weather the storm and try to help us all steer this ship wherever we land.