Quarantine Diaries, Part 1 - Virtual Seders, Walden Pond, and TikTok Videos

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A slice of quarantine life, courtesy of Isa Ferrall

It's been nearly a month since the Bay Area began to shelter-in-place. Since then, ERGies have spread all across the world in efforts to keep themselves and their communities safe. None of this is easy, but we're all doing our best to stay in good health and high spirits in this unprecedented time. Keeping up with friends and family feels more important than ever. So, Life@ERG is catching up with ERGies near and far to learn about their quarantine experiences and share them with YOU! This week, we hear from Michelle Sims, first-year student; Isa Ferrall, fourth-year student; Duncan Callaway, ERG faculty member; Edem Yevoo, first-year student; and Salma Elmallah, third-year student.

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation:

I live in a group house in Elmwood with my partner and some other folks. Initially I had considered going back to my parent's place in Southern CA for a couple weeks once everything was moved online, but ultimately decided to stay in Berkeley. My housemates make great quarantine company-- we've had mid-day yoga breaks together, movie nights, and game nights with a side of pina coladas. My partner and I have been trying out some new recipes, going for runs, and wandering up in the Berkeley fire trails to catch some sunsets. Despite many peoples' advice to put real clothes on, I've been rotating through every pair of sweats that I own. (Michelle)

I am in a shared home of 5 people. Luckily we all get along well and have enough space to spread out. I am loving our outdoor porch right now. The toughest part has been figuring out an internet situation that doesn't momentarily crash on people ever 10 minutes. (Isa)

I'm home with my elementary school-aged kids and my wife Meredith, who also teaches at Berkeley. We're homeschooling our kids at the same time we're teaching undergrads and grads. We've managed to find a lot of silver linings, including more free time to play board games, exercise together, and a deeper understanding of how terrific our kids' teachers are. (Duncan)

I am currently living in the International House and planning to stay here till the end of May while the virus is being contained. The building managers have set in place restrictions for residents including staying in our rooms as much as possible, closing down communal spaces that might encourage gatherings, and suggesting mask use when outside the room. The cafeteria allows for take out allowing 10 residents in at a time and enforcing social distancing policies within the house. (Edem)

Right now I'm at my parents' place in Canada, and since I came from another country I had to do an actual 14 day quarantine (as in staying 2 meters away from people and not sharing common space with anyone). So I'm just in my childhood bedroom, where I will be for 4 more days. Before that I did a couple weeks of sheltering in place with my housemate in Berkeley, and after this I'll just be sheltering in place in Edmonton with my parents and my little brother. (Salma)

What’s your information diet these days?

After endlessly getting distracted by coronavirus news initially, I've restricted myself to 15 minutes of news briefs in the morning. (Michelle)

Well I start my days by scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and the ERG Slack memes channel until I can't anymore. So there's that. I also read the NY Times daily newsletter. I think I mostly get information from my more-informed friends sending me things. (Salma)

Most of my information diet is based on podcasts and occasionally reading news articles summaries from the NY Times. (Edem)

I'm completely saturated! I scan headlines, but that's mostly it. (Duncan)

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?

I don't set an alarm on the weekends, and I try to take at least one full day off during the weekend for no work. One of our housemates started making pizza dough on saturday mornings for everyone, so we bake the pizzas Saturday night and then watch a movie together after. We are in the middle of the Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight series. (Isa)

I take time off on the weekends, and my kids don't have to do schoolwork. (Duncan)

The biggest difference is that I take most of the weekend time to enjoy relaxing activities. Anywhere from listening to a lot of music, video games (Fifa!), staying away from most academic work, and spending most of the time virtually connecting with friends and family throughout the weekend. (Edem)


Do you have any Zoom stories for us?

I convinced my supervisor to hold up her cute puppy throughout a work meeting. Which was the closest I could to petting her dog so that was very exciting. (Edem)

I participated in a 50 person zoom Passover Seder with my boyfriend's family! With a significant contingent of grandparents, there were definitely some funny technical issues. The cousin who was organizing everything is a middle school teacher, so she was able to coordinate everyone well and with patience! (Isa)

Someone tried to zoom-bomb my group meeting last week. I'd set up a waiting room and they left when I asked who they were. (Duncan)

What's a book or song or movie or piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?

The Persistence of Memory, by Salvador Dali (Michelle)

Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose. The book chronicles a family living through failure, isolation and independence in the frontier west. The term in the title derives from mining, and refers to the steepest angle a material can be piled to without slumping. I love the idea because it exemplifies beauty and order embedded in disorder. My life is always sitting at its own angle of repose, and the current situation strengthens that belief. (Duncan)

Hmmmm. This is a very good question! "Never Ending" by Rihanna has been both calming and devastating in a way that feels right. Obviously it's not about a pandemic but it is about loss and disconnection. On another note, on day 9 of my quarantine I tried to learn TikTok dances. They were all too hard for me but I think I will always think of my quarantine whenever I hear "Say So" by Doja Cat. (Salma)

A book that comes to mind is Walden by Henry David Thoreau. It is rather encouraging to me in the current situation of physical isolation and encourages me to pursue ways to feel productive and motivated to better myself in this strange period by learning new skills, appreciating art such as music, movies and documentaries, and getting comfortable with being by oneself for long periods. (Edem)


How does academia/being a grad student/working in your field of study feel right now?

It feels like a LOT of time on Zoom and in front of a computer! But it's also nice to have the support network of my fellow grad students in these strange times. (Michelle)

The issues that I was working on felt a lot more important 2 months ago than they do now. In addition to all of the other distractions, deadlines flying by, and stressful situations, it is hard to grapple with the fact that what I am working on matters a lot less than I thought it did. In addition I am trying to finish my quals during all of this. I was expecting to not participate in social activities and be dealing with my stress over this spring. Now it just is for multiple reasons. (Isa)

As of now it feels detached but I have found it quite productive in that the current situation has allowed me to reflect on my current trajectory as a grad student and to create a plan for what I want that experience to be going forward. (Edem)

I think for the most part, things have been business as usual - expectations for classes and research and work don't seem to have changed really, which in itself is weird because the world and my state of mind feel so different. There's always a thought in the back of my mind that's like, I don't know what the world will be like after this, or how long we'll be waiting for there to be an 'after COVID', that it's hard to do the same work I was doing before in the same way that I was doing it. I think in general I've detached myself a bit from productivity - like I'm still doing work, but I don't keep the same detailed weekly to-do lists that I used to. (Salma)

I feel fortunate that my job is flexible. Honestly my job isn't all that different from normal -- except that I have a lot less time to do it and that I miss being face to face with students and colleagues. (Duncan)

Anything else you’d like to share?

I highly recommend the BBC's 1995 Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth as a wholesome, 6 hr distraction from whatever you want to get away from. (Isa)

Stay well, friends!! (Michelle)

I would like to send a big shout out of appreciation to the ERG community because I still feel as close as I was to ERG without having to see everyone in-person. (Edem)

Come back next week for more quarantine stories from ERGies!

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