Donney Rose: Documenting the Times — Chronicling COVID-19

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During the first days of this pandemic, when Netflix was my only hope of entertainment, the impression of missing something kept growing in me. Because being in quarantine at the end of high school is not easy. Not being able to see our friends, thinking about memories that will never be created…- JB, age 16 (Quebec, Canada)

What I will remember about this time is the way we kept figuring out how to connect…- SW, age 55 (Baton Rouge, La)

Today I decided to put on sunscreen to remind myself of the universe,

of my place in it

(small, undefined, and powerful beyond belief).. - KK, age 18 (Brooklyn, NY)

Time has been rearranged for now.

We do not know what will be the result of this rearranging.

If it means there will be room for more,

more openness,

more support,

more light,

for the new,

for a rainbow…- AT, age 28 (Mississippi)

Greetings. Good day. How are you? I hope you are maintaining and holding on to something that feels like something alright. The quotes featured above are excerpts from a documentation project called Covid Chronicles that I am spearheading on behalf of Baton Rouge based nonprofit, Humanities Amped. Every week I, along with a small team of dedicated change agents/champions of public school, put out prompts designed to encourage our friends and the larger global community to document their lives during this period of the pandemic. We make sure to let folks know that their written response does not have to be super well-crafted or of any particular genre. We accept every writing submitted with minimal to no barriers.

Twice a week, we publish either the full writing or excerpts of submissions that speak to us through our individual social media accounts and Humanities Amped accounts, as well as the Amped website. It has been a sobering and joyful experience to read reflections from folks of varying ages, ethnicities and social statuses because it lets me know that in spite of everything folks are enduring, they are still mustering up the courage and resolve to articulate where they are in this seemingly never-ending timeline.

However, as a facilitator of this process and advocate of written expression, I have to honestly admit that up to this point I have not participated in this project. It is not that I have not articulated my thoughts on the moment we’re in in other forms (like writing for this publication), and as an educator, I do not generally believe in not leading by example. But it has been hard for me to dig beyond the surface level of commentary about COVID-19 and burrow into the emotional toll this history has taken on me. Most working writers are exploring the who and what and where and when of this pandemic, but the how and why of it can lead many writers to wrestle with uncomfortable realizations about the ways we are personally processing this moment. I believe that at their purest state, great writers communicate with the world around them in the least compromised way. So with that said, and in my pursuit to be a better writer each day than the day before, allow me to engage in some of the reflections that I am long overdue to give language to. And hopefully, my attempt at transparency can prompt those of you reading to be honest with yourselves about where you are in this continuum.

Social distancing has taught me...

A lesson that has been reinforced for me during this time of social distancing is just how much I rely on good energy from good people to operate at a maximum. Once upon a time, I described myself as an extroverted introvert and to a large extent that assessment still holds true. I can be comfortable in my own head, with my own thoughts, with interesting things to read and quality music to bump, but I get a different zest from being in fellowship with my community. I have learned that the things I typically take for granted weigh differently when they are not an option.

I was used to having lunch twice a month with my homies at the Black-owned vegan restaurant in town. I was used to visiting the small Black-owned coffee shop in the neighborhood I grew up in and trading jokes with its owner. I was used to open air festivals in the warmth of a Louisiana spring. I was used to in-person work meetings and community dialogues where the excitement of innovative and progressive ideas was pulsating, and the tension around finding equitable solutions was only eclipsed by the satisfaction of unlocking answers. I was used to sharing my art with audiences and receiving brilliant art from peers and friends. I was used to daps and hugs and belly laughs with people I love.

Performing my multimedia spoken word project, The American Audit to a sold-out audience on February 28th. Two and half weeks before stay-at-home directives became a state mandate. Photo by Leslie D. Rose.

At this point, I cannot accurately quantify how long it has been since I have been in the presence of my community. I see folks on Zoom, Facebook and Instagram live, and have almost begun to confuse those moments of virtual fellowship with the last time I actually shared space with the people on the other side of the phone and laptop. Again, it is not that I never knew that a part of my life force was powered by communing with my people. There are just some lessons that bear a harsh repeat.

The world doesn’t seem so big anymore…

For quite some time now, I have been of the belief that the internet, and more specifically social media, does the job of both expanding and shrinking our world. I generally come back to the idea of, “wow this is happening all over the world” on a daily basis, and that reality is both jarring and connective.

I think a lot about the migration of this virus. How it literally has gone on a world tour as one of the worst acts in history to ever take center stage. Its sufferers, detractors and anti-fans literally make up every walk of life. We know that its impact is disproportionately disruptive to the same people whose identities have always left them in a vulnerable position. The data has shown us just how much it does not care for the least of us. Still, it is astounding to consider that in the year 2020, in an age of medical and technological advances, one strain of the virus can make its way to six of seven continents and put the planet on pause. Different nations have seen decreases in new cases of infection, or plateaus, peaks or varying death tolls, but the connecting thread is the overwhelming majority of the world has hosted this unwanted visitor that appears to not comprehend that it has outstayed its ‘welcome.’

When I think about the smallness of the world, I think about the navigability of this virus. If we were vastly disconnected the ‘pan’ in pandemic would be an inadequate prefix, and that epidemic would be a sufficient term as its impact would be contained. But this world consists of millions and millions of people that are no more than a plane ride from crossing time zones. We share culture, we share customs, and now this generation has a clear understanding of the ease in which we can share illness. Many Americans did not consider the migration of the coronavirus from China as a possibility, nor did many Americans consider the possibility that it was here long before it began a game of global hopscotch. What this moment accentuates is that the silos we believe we exist in are more figments of our imagination than it is reality. COVID-19 received global distribution and will require global cooperation to end its tour run. We can all only hope that ample fans of its departure are still around to wave it goodbye.

What I will remember the most about this time is…

The walks my wife and I took on a daily basis around our neighborhood when the only sound for blocks was our breaths and our conversations. I will remember surfing YouTube for old Jodeci videos and discovering a gem of a performance they did with Stevie Wonder and Mary J. Blige on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992 and becoming obsessed with Allen Stone’s “Brown Eyed Lover” on NPR Tiny Desk. I will remember the #Verzuz musician battles and putting together digital spoken word performances and community dialogues. I will remember American leadership bickering over the reopening of the country. I will remember the U.S. being led by a horrid administration and the primary option to unseat the sitting president being a less than desirable one. I will remember images of people in masks and commercials from companies that changed their marketing to accommodate pickups and deliveries. I will remember the stories of folks I know who watched their loved ones succumb to the virus and the testimonials of those who survived it. I will remember the compassion displayed, the scams that were attempted and the distance that made those conflicting ideals possible. I will remember combing through social media memories and wishing that I could time travel to foregone moments. I will remember what it meant to wait for isolation to end and outside to be more than a temporary break from cabin fever. I will remember assessing if I had any symptoms. I will remember the paranoia of contracting the virus. I will remember the feeling of dodging everyone whose path I encountered out of concern.

And if fate should have it that I do not survive this time period, I hope that my written offerings during this time of uncertainty are remembered as honest. It is said that the world is a stage and we are all putting forth our best presentation of surviving a crisis we did not get a dress rehearsal for. Some of us will have the opportunity to encore our best pre-pandemic lives. Some of us will endure a final curtain call. We are all improvising our way through an ever-changing script where we are both the audience and actors. I hope to be around to reminisce on the greatest act of resilience we choreographed together. I hope you are there too to share in the memory of survival.