Assignments Humans and Non-Humans States, Bodies, and Epidemics

Pandemic Journals – first assignment

Write your story of this moment

Write a weekly journal for the next ten weeks. That’s it. Write at least 300 words once a week. Keeping your privacy concerns in mind, choose a medium for a digital journal. You decide how public you want it to be. It can be an Instagram account, or a Tumblr, Blogger, or WordPress blog. It can be a collection of pdfs. You decide what makes the most sense for you. Once you have created your Pandemic Journal, if you wish to share it with us, please post the address as a comment below (on this post).

In his diary of plague in Oran, Algeria, Albert Camus’ character the good doctor Rieux describes himself in the first few pages of the novel The Plague as a narrator with three kinds of data: “first, what he saw himself, secondly, the accounts of other eyewitnesses,” and third, “documents that subsequently came into his hands” (6). Through these, he will write the story of what happened and how plague tore through Oran and how it eventually subsided, only to bide its time until the day when again “for the bane and enlightenment of men, it would rouse up its rats and send them forth to die in a happy city” (308).

William Hurt as Dr. Rieux in, “The Plague” (1992) film Dir. Luis Puenzo

Like Camus through Dr. Rieux, many writers have used the form of the journal as a way to keep track of time, record events, and reflect on the human experience during outbreaks of pandemic disease such as HIV/AIDS or Bubonic Plague. The journal is an inherently reflexive genre, so it encourages the spilling of guts, so to speak. The journal brings its reader into the intimate experience of the narrator.

You can use different forms of data, both experiential and archival to analyze the events unfolding in this pandemic. That is, you can draw information about the human experience during the current pandemic of COVID-19 from the ways it is affecting your life, how it’s affecting the lives of those around you, and from scholarly sources, as well as from the internet and mass media.

Keeping track of your experiences throughout the next ten weeks will help you stay in touch with your emotions, which is helpful to mental health. It will also help you see patterns that may emerge that could be instructive or illuminating for you as you reflect on them later, and it can give you an outlet for your creativity, which is always good for your wellbeing. Don’t forget to drop your URL below in the comments! Also, take a moment to read and comment on someone else’s Pandemic Journal. In ten weeks, we will have a substantial human archive of this plague.

NOTE: Both classes will do this assignment. Folks taking the “Humans & Non-Humans” class, please pay special attention to how this pandemic is affecting non-human animals, landscapes, and the environment.

By Adriana Garriga-López

Associate Professor of Anthropology at Kalamazoo College

43 replies on “Pandemic Journals – first assignment”

Hi, Hannah! I would like to share some thoughts on your blog here, if that’s alright. This way others can read and decide to add more if they read it, as well. First I wanted to say I like the design of your blog, though the text is a little small so I had to zoom in to read it with my old eyes. I have found some kind of comfort in the idea that spring returns undaunted despite our isolation and the slowing down of our societies. In fact, there does seem to be some evidence that nature is enjoying our reprieve. Many students have noted in their journals that birds seem more active, and I have noticed the same thing. There have been so many colorful birds of all sizes in my back yard these past few weeks. The other day we even saw what I think was a large buzzard or vulture in our neighbor’s yard. It was big! I don’t remember where your family lives, but I know in some areas it can be hard to find green areas or places where animals could be. But think beyond the obvious… the whole environment is made of things that are other than human and yet are in perpetual relation to us, including basic things like earth and air. When you start to look at these things, like asking what is earth or what is air? It turns out these things are really complex phenomena swirling with microscopic or infinitesimal elements relating in energetic ways. It’s all in how you look at it and there are many scales of analysis. I admire your courage in taking on difficult conversations with family members in such a difficult time, as well as your ability to be compassionate and remember that we are all scared. We are all afraid of death, of suffering, of the death and suffering of others. And yet, this is also a constant in our world–in the experience of life. Continuing to move through uncertainty and difficulty with love and compassion is the most human thing we can do. Thank you for sharing your writing!

Hi Hannah!
I found your thoughts on nature and residue really intriguing, especially with the way you write about them. Something that I really connected with and that has hit me really hard the past couple of days is the first part of your post. Your statement that “my motivation has been low. The routines that were just starting to excite me have already begun to feel more like a burden… Most things during the day feel pointless so I take naps” deeply connected with me and voiced things that I have been noticing in myself. Seeing another student feeling a similar way has made me feel a little better during this. Thanks for sharing!

Hi Hannah!
I found your thoughts on nature and residue really intriguing, especially with the way you write about them. Something that I really connected with and that has hit me really hard the past couple of days is the first part of your post. Your statement that “my motivation has been low. The routines that were just starting to excite me have already begun to feel more like a burden… Most things during the day feel pointless so I take naps” deeply connected with me and voiced things that I have been noticing in myself. Seeing another student feeling a similar way has made me feel a little better during this. Thanks for sharing!

Hi! Thank you for sharing that picture of your dog! haha….My little brother has been trying to convince my mom to let us get a dog, but I don’t think it’s happening! I think the last part from your last post is something that a lot of people of realizing: our pets and the animals at the zoo live their lives the way we are living ours right now. I have some family members that have even stopped going to the zoo years ago. Thanks for sharing!!!

Madeline! I love the set up of your blog, super cute! I also appreciate your generosity when giving out masks to people in your community. This is a great form of solidarity!

Madeline, thanks for your post. I fee like navigating difficult familial relationships during this time is extremely tricky, I wish you the best of luck with it. I’m glad you found a place in your house to do work. I think about my favorite spots in the library to get work done to, now more than ever. It’s really difficult to get work done at home, but I’m learning to treat every completed assignment as a small victory. We’re about halfway there now!

Hi Madeline! I relate to everything you said on your last post. I have a fitness instagram page where I usually post either my workouts or different movement ideas for other people to use as a resource. People always comment saying how they wish they have my motivation. I usually reply explaining how yes they see the workouts that I do that day, but they don’t see how I struggle to get out of bed everyday, how much I can sleep in a day, and how stressed out I am. Outside it may seem like I’m okay…but I also feel like a mess too haha. WE GOT THIS! Thank you for sharing!

Naomi! I appreciate the vulnerability in your journal. I definitely feel you on the burnout. It’s a tough time and the media hasn’t seemed to help, either. Cooking and baking random things has been a great distraction and release of anxiety for me!

Thank you for sharing! I know that things have not made wanting to do homework easy…I feel that 100%. At times I feel like my brother is much more productive than I am, and he’s in 3rd grade. He sits in class from 9am-1pm. On most days, I’m barely starting my day when he is already half way done with him and it makes me feel bad at times. I know it’s easier said than done, but keep pushing girl…just take it day by day!

Naomi, your post was extremely helpful for me, thank you so much for sharing this. When you talked about how you are actively trying to practice self-compassion and patience amidst all of this chaos, it helped me in validating my process as well. I am also glad you included that twitter post. I saw that a couple weeks ago and saved it because it helps me check myself when I feel bad about not completing something right now.

Hi Samuel! I think that this time has made everyone realize what simple things in our lives mean to us like you mentioned in your post: luxury of going to class, seeing each other’s faces, and sharing our thoughts and our learning with them. I was on FaceTime with my 5-year old cousin the other day as he told me, “I don’t really like school and I can’t believe I’m about to say this but I actually miss it and want to go back.” I couldn’t stop laughing because I think many of us are wishing the same thing. I def think I will appreciate the little things a bit more after this pandemic.

Sam, the questions you asked in your blog post of how we will be after this is over in terms of valuing human connection and reconnecting with our natural selves was powerful. I’ve thought a lot about this and I feel like if this crisis has taught me anything, it’s that I have to be better to myself and accept the things I can and can not really control. While easier said than done, it’s an active practice that we all owe oursleves. Thanks fo sharing this!

Hey Jess! I enjoyed reading your blog post, and I also felt the same with some of the points you made that I just wanted to briefly comment on!

1) I think that this pandemic has hopefully been a good time for our pets! I think that sometimes the demanding jobs that either our parents or we have often take up most of our lives, which also means less time with any pets that we have.
2) My mood is very much dependent on the weather (which I am not a fan of but it’s the truth haha). I’ve noticed that the weather has become something that I am constantly looking at on my phone throughout the week, especially during this time that we are experiencing!

Jess, it was nice to read about how the weather has been beneficial and activating for you. For me, the weather plays a big role in my emotions and the sun/ warm weather is everything to me! It was also nice to read about your dog and how helpful pets/ companions are. Thanks for sharing!

Jess! I you blog is so cute. I definitely feel the struggle of the weather. Living in Chicago, I know the struggle of snow in April. Going outside for some fresh air has defiantly helped me feel more free. I am glad that you are keeping some optimism towards this situation during your senior year! Also congrats to your brother!

I love how your blog is set up! For your most recent journal, I think that is something a lot of people can relate to right now especially with other colleges like MSU and Western being in finals right now. My sister is a senior and State and we were just having a similar conversation about this not being the way she thought her time at college would end as well as uncertainty about the future. I’m happy you got to spend more time outside and got a nice change in routine this week! Thanks for sharing!

Hey Avani! I really liked your point on the TV becoming a “fear generating machine.” Yesterday during lunch, my little bother, parents, and I had started eating and we usually have the TV with the news. My older brother was having a meeting and joined us a couple minutes after. When he came into the kitchen, he says, “Oh wow. I haven’t turned on the TV because they just show the same thing.” He isn’t wrong. I think they this pandemic has taken over all the TV channels and has been creating fear in many families. THEY’RE NOT EVEN SHOWING ELLEN 🙁

This also makes me think about the headlines that I come across on social media platforms such as Facebook. Headlines can be very misleading, and this can also cause a lot of fear and confusion for many people. It’s important to 1) read the article and 2) know where the information is coming from.

Also, I love what you have chosen to do!!!

Avani I appreciate the way you have set up your journal entry. It’s been challenging for me to focus recently, but the way you write is accessible and easy for me to engage with. I especially like what you said about how the “TV had become a fear generalizing machine.” Watching the news has produced a lot of feelings for me that have been detrimental to my well being. Highlighting this was vital for me to see, thank you!

Lindsay!! I love you and your pet children. Thanks for describing how you care for them so lovingly. I like the thought of you humidifying that coconut every day. I know it is hard to feel caged and boxed up during this quarantine. Hopefully the weather will continue to improve and we can at least enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a lovely spring time. This is like one of the few things that still makes me feel hopeful. It is tough times, my friend. But I know you are thankful for everything you have and I am thankful that you are well taken care of and safe. Thanks so much for sharing your blog post and also for commenting on other people’s. Peace to you.

Lindsay, you talking about how having all of your basic necesties met but still being restless and sad really resonated with me. The metal toll that this has taken has been so great. But I am happy that you have your children to take care of and help you cope. You sound like you love them and that’s beautiful! Best of luck taking care of them

Hey everybody! This is my blog here.

Thank you for sharing yours and for allowing me to share mine.

Hi Hannah!
For your week 2 entry, I love how you included pictures of COVID19 and Pollen from a rag weed plant. I definitely agree that the pollen looks more intimidating up close than COVID19. I also find it interesting that you noticed the residue in the air. There is a similar feeling in the air here in Michigan that I haven’t noticed until now. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Hi Naomi!
I can relate to your feelings of being burnt out from quarantine. It was nice to have a break but having so much time on your hands feels can feel overwhelming. Thanks for being so open in your posts.

Hi Lindsey!
I really like the design of your blog. I enjoyed that you are focusing on your pet’s experience and wellbeing during this time. I think a bigger terrarium for them would be a good way to focus your time and energy into something when everything feels out of control.

We are all in the midst of transition as this wild term winds down…I’ll be taking a lot with me from States Bodies and Epidemics and I thought it would be appropriate to mark the end by sharing what I’ve been thinking about during this time.

As the weirdest and most unimaginable term of school winds to a close, my thoughts in general come to ending and closing- death in a certain way. Death is naturally a topic that is parceled into the landscape of pestilence. In navigating death and dying, we rely heavily on the shared meaning held in our communities and the histories of our communities to breathe meaning into our experience. Now more than ever, individuals and communities are faced with death and its significance on a totally unprecedented scale. With the convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent wave of protests against the racist murder of Black Americans at the hands of state power through the police force of this land, death and dying in the Black community must especially be the voice of our collective listening, the suffering for which we must have space in our hearts, and the dignity which we aim to humbly uphold. The death care industry in this country is one made up largely of small businesses who serve local communities, and it is small businesses which suffer disproportionately by the hand of pestilence. Furthermore, it is small businesses that were formed by Black Americans, create employment in Black communities, and provide services in the Black community that will suffer the most among those businesses. The terrible irony of the plague is that even small businesses in death care are put at grave risk, because not a single COVID-19 body may be taken into their care. And the dead are denied the appropriate rites of passage that give meaning to the living. The contagion and the state prevent it. Indeed it is in the name of public health, but what public health is there where people can neither make peace with their grief nor share the joy of life with family after the death of a loved one? How will we live our lives if we are forced to accept a grief which is itself half-buried? We MUST grieve to live, and there is no life, no health, in this. Any philosophical individual who wishes to understand the meaning of life must first understand the meaning of death, because it is from this that we fashion our glimpse at the world. They are of the same substance. And to jeopardize one’s path to making meaning in life and in death is to strike at the very core of their humanity- an offense that should deeply terrify us all. An offense made possible by racist institutions and the limits of human empathy, and magnified by pestilence. This is an injustice acted out on the basis of our differences as human beings, but it strikes at that life-giving process of meaning-making that we all, though in different forms, are intimately linked together in. This is a call to justice- to act out of love for manyness and oneness- an injustice on the basis of difference is an injustice against what we all share, and to threaten what we share must be felt by us all. This is the call to justice and love in the time of the plague and the somber harvest we must reap from it in the time to come as well.

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