I stopped journaling during this whole thing. Initially I just sort of stopped thinking about it, then when I remembered that I wasn’t journaling I would think of how little I had to say. How many times could I write “This sucks, did the same thing today as yesterday, don’t care”?
I eventually came to the conclusion that I do not care if I forget the COVID era. I think that I will not care to remember the dull terror of waking up every day on edge, separated from everyone, worried about this disease that people don’t even know that they have, seeing video after video of people brutalized by the police before I go to sleep and do the same thing the next day.
I first started keeping a diary back in high school, senior year. It is kind of embarrassing to go back and read it nowadays, but I’m glad that I had it. I am amazed looking back at how important each day felt. Small quibbles with people I haven’t spoken to in six-plus years now got full-page spreads. I was detailing arguments I had on long-since-shut-down YouTuber-specific internet forums.
I quit doing that when I went to college in August 2013, then picked it back up around January 2015, and have more or less kept a nightly diary ever since. I never picked it back up in April when I got home. I found all the old ones, though. What a seemingly fruitless labor that was, so many nights over about five years, age eighteen to twenty-three, scribbling whatever I was feeling into the pages of a notebook. It was always a spiral notebook, too, I never bought anything special for journaling. I still don’t. Currently I’m rockin with a 150-page college-ruled spiral from the BAZIC company.
But it paid off. I didn’t think about who would read the journals when I was writing them, but me, age 25, in the summer of a pandemic, turned out to be exactly who needed to read them the most.
The thing that started to stick out to me as I kept reading was the presence of the superlative. Its appearances were infrequent, but every few pages I would see phrases like “this was a great day” and “today was the worst!”
It prompted me to think about the time I have been spending. When was the last time that I ended a day and thought “Today was a great day”? I don’t think I’ve honestly been able to say that since at least March. Every day since about March 10th has felt like a dull, frustrating, and just generally bad slog. It’s been mostly solitude, fear, and dread, and the goal for most days has been to make it to the end. Each nightfall marks another day down, one more closer to the day that waking up feels like something of significance again.
Not every one of these superlatives were positive, even. The above quote was from a day when I suffered from alcohol poisoning after letting too lose at my friend Randall’s birthday party. I cannot physically vomit and I dry heaved for several hours before my sister drove me to a hospital. It was a horrible day, and I appreciate her forever for doing what she did for me. But the memories of the previous night, fuzzy as they may be, were defined by the interactions with people I loved and cared about.
The weekend from April 2015 came after a convention I attended with a number of close friends. On two eight hour drives from Lawrence, Kansas to Minneapolis, Minnesota and back, I and three people I knew relatively well grew so much closer, and the experience in Minneapolis introduced me to a group of fellow college band members.
I went to a basketball game at Allen Fieldhouse with friends over this weekend at the end of February in 2015. I remember it being a great game, but I remember it specifically because we got to perform on the court as the halftime show. We held special rehearsals for a few weeks leading up to the performance, but it paid off.
The ingredient that made these days significant was, very simply, others. I don’t have great days when it’s just me. I don’t have days that really mean anything when it’s just me. I enjoy solitude sometimes, sure, but not at this length. I know that solitude works for some people, and I’m happy for them, but it is not good for me. It has not been good for me.
It helps to remember how much time has passed since those entries were written, though. It’s been five years since I was nineteen on the road to the convention and performing on the court with the band, almost three since the day I deemed “The Worst”, seven since I started scribbling down my emotions in a notebook during my last semester of high school. When I was at those ages, writing on those pages, I never even considered twenty-five, but that time has passed, and it’s going to continue to pass. One day, five years from now, I’ll be able to look at this blog the same way that I do the posts from sophomore year, and I take some comfort in that. I can only hope that the Joe who reads this in five years is having great and awful days again.
But for now, I’ll have to keep getting through each day. It doesn’t feel romantic, it barely feels significant most of the time, it’s just the treacly pain of solitude, heavy enough to always feel but malleable enough to live through. I miss the great days, I miss the awful days. I miss everybody. I miss everybody. I can’t dress it up any more than that, I just miss everybody.
I found the last day that I had a superlative to describe my day. March 5th, 2020. It was over four months ago now. It was one of the best days I ever had teaching, with a group of students I really enjoyed having in my class. I walked with them around our campus and asked them to think about what different spatial aspects of the campus (architecture, floor layouts, greenery, etc.) I sort of remember the old guy, I seem to remember that he and I talked about Billy Graham for some reason. The next class period, which took place the following Tuesday, I had to deliver my instructions about online teaching to my students. The friday after this journal entry would be the final time I stepped foot on the San Diego State campus in the Spring 2020 semester. I had no idea it would be like that on March 5th.
I am no optimist, but I do not need to be in order to say I will have days like this again. I called March 5th “really good” because I was teaching, and specifically because I took a bit of a risk in teaching that lesson. I know that I will keep doing that, and as such, I know more good days are to come. I am simply uncertain when they will be.