Quarantine Diaries, Part 3 - From Berkeley to Bellingham to Bishop

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Welcome to the third installment of the Quarantine Diaries series. This week we hear from ERG graduate students (and alumni!) spread across the Sierras; Bellingham, Washington; and Berkeley, California. Learn how they are managing thwarted fieldwork plans, supporting family on the front lines, and expressing gratitude for the company and natural beauty around them.

Sophie Major (fifth-year graduate student)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
This year was supposed to be a key fieldwork year for me, living in Bellingham and driving up to British Columbia to interview and engage with folks there. When discussions of closing the US-Canada border began, I had to decide which side of the border to remain on, and opted to stay in Bellingham since in-person fieldwork needed to cease immediately anyways. In Bellingham, my quarantine buddies are my partner Froy (ERG alum) and Mr. Cat. The three of us are very comfortable in our cozy little place, and we luckily have some great neighbors that we get to chat with from afar on occasion.

One of the new balancing acts for us is figuring out how to share office and work space. Froy is teaching two courses online this quarter, so when he is teaching I am relegated to the dining table, which for the last couple of weeks has been occupied by in-progress jigsaw puzzles. I've figured out how to coexist with the puzzles, which usually means just working on top of them (and slowly working away at them while I'm video calls).

I have taken up baking recipes from the Cheese Board Collective cookbook, which I was able to snag used online. They give away a lot of their tasty secrets, and our homemade pizzas and baking have been mostly satisfying my Cheese Board cravings. We're also working on a backyard planter garden, starting some vegetable plants from seed. My most time-consuming quarantine activity, which I'm sure is true for a lot of ERGies, is calling and checking in on family regularly. I have eight siblings, many of whom live alone and are very isolated right now, and other family members who are very at-risk or who are essential workers. I try to call one family member every day or two, but even at that pace I can only talk to each of them once or twice a month!

What's a piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?
This piece of extinction rebellion street art captures my current feelings of political and social motivation.

I've been spending some time the last few weeks thinking about how social change ought to come about and what my role in that ought to look like. Right now I'm mulling over a position that Foucault argues for in his essay "What is Enlightenment?" that I came across yesterday: "we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions." Foucault is not arguing against specific projects of social transformation, but rather warning against a self-proclaimed radical project that claims to replace our contemporary reality all at once.

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

One of our favorite things to do on the weekend is to get outside to exercise, but we happen to live in an area where the parks and trails are packed on the weekends. We've more or less changed our "weekend" to weekdays, so that we make some time to be outside when it's less crowded. Most of the time, though, there's not much difference between the weekend and weekdays we usually get some work done in the mornings and then get increasingly distracted by other activities as the day progresses.

What’s your information diet these days?
The majority of weekdays I listen to or watch Democracy Now during lunch. Usually I just hear the headlines, but sometimes I'll listen to the whole program if the guests seem particularly interesting. I also read through the New York Times' daily briefing most days, and often check local reddit subs for postings on local news or virus-related hearsay. For many weeks I was checking the local health department websites and the global Worldometer virus statistics everyday, but now I check those only every few days.

How does being a grad student feel right now?
My research is focused on Indigenous political thought, and right now that often feels unimportant given the many pressing day to day challenges Indigenous communities are dealing with. It definitely makes doing research difficult, since Indigenous leadership is often fully occupied by their work to address concerns of public health, economic well-being, education, service provision, legal proceedings to secure rights, and so on. However, I still think my research can offer valuable contributions to ongoing projects of indigenous resistance and epistemic decolonization, so I still feel positive and hopeful about my work.

Stephen Jarvis (fifth-year graduate student)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
I live on my own in a little in-law cottage in North Berkeley. Definitely feel like not having to navigate the whole housemate/covid situation is a bit of a blessing. It can get a bit lonely sometimes but I'm compensating with an absurd number of video chats with friends and family, many of whom are weathering the storm back in the UK. It's been tough at times being so far away from them, especially because some of my family are particularly affected (my mum works in the NHS and my brother has been going through chemo). Been trying to stay positive though with lots of exercise and walks in the Berkeley hills, which has been a godsend. I can imagine a lot of far worse places to be than Berkeley right now!
What's a song or piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"? Just kidding, life's not that bad! I've definitely been listening to A LOT of music which has actually been lovely. It's been heartening to see how people have rallied round to support artists that are being hammered right now. Big plug for NTS radio tons of great shows. Today I'm listening to a retrospective of Tatsuro Yamashita so it's sunny J-pop vibes all round. Oh and on the books front, I re-read Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy recently and have been working my way through the sequels now. They still hold up so well, and The Secret Commonwealth was wonderful.

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you? 
What is this weekday/weekend distinction you speak of?

What’s your information diet these days?

Definitely been cutting down on news consumption lately. I check the NYtimes, Guardian and the IHME Covid model once a day but that's it. Also all the podcasts I like are almost all about the coronavirus now so after a while I've stopped listening to most of those too. Only ones I'm still up on are Reply All and the BBC's More or Less.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us?
So sick of Zoom that I am now using other video chat platforms (Google Hangouts, Skype etc.) simply to break the monotony. God that's a sad sentence to write! 

How does being a grad student feel right now?
The first few weeks were a bit hectic as I'm teaching this semester, but that's calmed down now that the semester is finishing up. On the whole though I feel very lucky. Compared to most people my work life hasn't changed very much and I can get on with my research largely uninterrupted. I am going on the job market in the Fall though so that's looking increasingly bleak with all the hiring freezes being announced. It is what it is though so I'm just carrying on as is and we'll see what happens.

Anything else you’d like to share? 
I want to have a party! Can we still do something to celebrate the end of the year and ERG graduation!?

Hilary Yu (fourth-year graduate student)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation. 

I've been in transit recently - I was in the field and determining where it would make sense to end up sheltering in place - and have been feeling a bit like I'm still catching up on figuring out a proper routine and how best to be productive! Although I'm aiming for a more structured routine whilst self-isolating, I find myself having bursts of activity around 1-3am and though it feels like the current scenario would make a semi-nocturnal routine more feasible than normal, I'll probably try to avoid it for now!

What's a book or song or movie or piece of art that captures how you’re feeling today?
My desktop wallpaper has been Rodin's "The Thinker," which I think has been apropos for most days recently. I'd also say Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. Aside from works of art though, my partner has a cat and I find myself better understanding his very matter-of-fact appreciation of the simple amusements that one can find at home (but I will nevertheless forgo crawling into the hamper).

What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you? 
I definitely agree with Ariel about the sleeping-in difference between weekdays and weekends. I also try to let myself take longer walks over the weekends (for a bit of reflection and exercise!) and maybe delve into a new recipe or two. My sister recently set up a weekly family hangout that falls on Sunday evenings for me, and that has been a nice way to wrap up the weekend and transition to the week.

What’s your information diet these days?
I've been watching the BBC news to get better coverage of international events, and have also been making use of the NYT (and WSJ) campus subscriptions for grad students. I also keep updated with local news sources on circumstances in the areas where I've been doing field research.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us? 
My laptop's webcam is what they call a nose-cam (it's located at the bottom of my laptop screen) but at my normal laptop screen angle it doesn't quite capture the nose either. Instead it shows a scary view of monster-sized hands and a chin (and sometimes the rare sighting of a mouth or nose).

Upon discovering that hosts/co-hosts can rename individuals in a Zoom meeting, we've had some fun and creative nicknaming, and a point when everyone in one meeting ended up with the same name.

How does being a grad student feel right now?

A mix of a lot of things – concerns about circumstances in so many places which make it difficult for many communities to adopt the measures that are being recommended at this time; these concerns get compounded by seeing the prioritization of where resources go when an epidemic becomes a global pandemic; worries about dissertation ideas and original plans for field research, and trying to adapt to the uncertainty that we all find ourselves in, whether we are grad students or not, by considering what contingency plans might be necessary and feasible. There's also attempting to manage all of these feelings productively and trying to focus on concrete things that can be done (I've found myself getting lost trying to think through multiple contingency plans, at the cost of forgetting that there are many other productive things to engage in!).

I also feel gratitude for all the support and understanding that has come from so many different people during this time. And I'm working to remember to take a step back and keep the human concerns of this time in perspective, even though it's easy to get mired down in worrying about the academic and professional implications. One thing that has been particularly inspiring is the sense of community and solidarity that has emerged and endured, even as places have gone into lockdown and people have had to physically isolate themselves.

Anything else you'd like to share?
I have to give a huge shout-out and heartfelt thanks to Kay – she was there for me every step of the way when I was in the field and figuring out what to do, and it made all the difference.

Micah Elias (2nd year), Phillippe Phanivong (4th year), Tzipora Wagner (2nd year), Anna Yip (1st year)

Tell us a bit about your quarantine situation.
We are some of the lucky ones. Right now Phillippe, Tzipora, Anna, and Micah are happily sheltering with Sascha von Meier and her husband Mike in Bishop, on the east side of the Sierras. We were all originally planning on coming up for a few days during spring break, then shelter in place happened and here we are, six weeks later! We have a pretty precious East Side ERG family situation – Anna and Micah cook dinner, Tzipora and Phillippe clean up, and Sascha and Mike pay the mortgage.

We have celebrated two birthdays in the past six weeks. Anna celebrated hers by running the inaugural Hapa Half Marathon, from Sascha’s house to South Lake (1400 feet in elevation gain), up a small random dirt road to round out the 13 miles, and back to Sascha’s. Phillippe celebrated his birthday with a whiskey tasting on Zoom – he got five sample bottles sent to the him through a store holding a special event. We all celebrated Passover together as well, which added an exciting additional layer of complexity to cooking for six people. 
Although we were all planning on climbing while up here, the sheriff has threatened to ticket anyone climbing. We solved that problem by putting an anchor in the rafter of the house to practice ascending a rope and rappelling past a knot. We also discovered a big rock in the backyard that can be bouldered if you put your mind to it. It has been dubbed Brock (boulder + rock) and has informally become part of the family. It’s like an outside cat that doesn’t need to be fed. The perfect pet. 

We have been here long enough that the weather has changed and we’ve become comfortable farting around each other. The cooks have been asked to cut out meat, dairy, simple carbs, added sugar, carrots, bananas, as well as minimize shopping trips to once a week. So, beans?


What’s the difference between a weekday and weekend for you?
When it was snowing, weekdays often included circuit training in the living room, which has turned into runs and bike rides. Weekends now consist of longer runs, longer bike rides, and a blessed relief from Zoom. Tzipora also makes sourdough on Sundays, that’s a highlight.


Weekends also lead to unfettered time to play games and do puzzles. Anna and Micah have almost mastered the collaborative card game, Hanabi, while Sascha and Tzipora have achieved double digit NYT crossword puzzle streaks. Micah even got a word. Radii. A real ringer.

Weekends are also a time to make sure we stay looking sharp. Micah practicing his barbering skills on Phillippe, and on himself, with different levels of success.

What’s your information diet these days?
For pandemic-related news, Phillippe provides daily updates on Covid cases in the county at dinner. As this was being written, Phillippe excitedly shared that the county has come out with demographic-specific data. It is reminiscent of kids opening presents on Christmas morning, except different.  

To help remind ourselves of the good things in life, we have been sharing something each person is grateful for at dinner. It has been daily reminder that we are lucky to have each other, our health, and a beautiful place to call home.

Do you have any Zoom stories for us?
Having so many Zoom meetings in the same house has been interesting, we often Zoom into the same meeting from different rooms because no one wants to get up. But when we do go to meetings as a group, we have the small audio-visual studio that Phillippe brought with him, including a camera with tripod, mic with tripod, and four-way headphone splitter. He puts the tripod for the mic on a piece of foam to minimize unwanted noise from the mouse. For those of you who know Phillippe well, this does not surprise you.

However, even with all of our gear and planning, issues arise. Today, Tzipora’s family got together for their weekly happy hour using her Zoom link. However, she sent out the same link for her lab presentation. When she signed on to begin her presentation, she saw her parents and siblings, sharing a virtual drink, waiting for the rest of the family. Tzipora quickly pushed them out, but not before her mom said, “good lucky, baby, hope it goes great. Love you” in front of the lab group. Nice ice breaker at least. Oh, and one of Anna’s students changed their background to a photo of Anna they found online and got a good laugh from everyone, including Anna. Nothing too juicy however.

How does being a grad student feel right now?
Although it is easy to feel like school or work is irrelevant during this time, we all feel extremely lucky and privileged to in a beautiful place surrounded by amazing people. Our daily gratitude practice is a great reminder how blessed we are to have each other. 

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