When the coronavirus lockdown began, we didn’t know how long it would last. For many, the public health mandates urging residents to stay inside were also a signal to turn inward. So, in late March, The Inquirer asked readers to submit entries from journals.
We welcomed not simply written journals, but invited readers to share art from their notebooks. As the months followed, the submissions showed how people around the region were flexing their creativity and working to process these overwhelming times. Readers recorded their hope, their despair, and their everyday activities as life-changing events unfolded — the spread of the pandemic, the protests after George Floyd’s murder, and the social uprisings that have followed.
Here are excerpts from the journals of seven Philadelphia-area readers.
Rebecca Fox, March 16: As of right now, New Jersey is in a State of Emergency. When I got home for spring break last Thursday, my mother and I went to our local Shop Rite, which was the busiest I have ever seen. She wanted to get some items in before she and my dad did their regular weekly excursion on Saturday because the night before, President Donald Trump scared her by saying, “We are in a global pandemic,” after assuring everyone that this virus is just like the flu and to calm down. Zero to 100, real quick.
Rebecca Fox, March 17: I still am sort of freaking out over everything. The idea of uncertainty is what is driving me crazy, but I take comfort in the fact that everyone is in the same boat. Not many new updates as of today, other than more cases of infection have been detected. I am trying to finish everything that is due before April, so that I can ease my mind and give myself some time to relax.
Karrie Senofonte Millett, March 24: With hose in hand, and 50-degree water flowing, I began to fill my oasis. The sun beaming brightly, and the flower beds soggy from yesterday’s deluge, I decided to weed the areas surrounding the hot tub to pass the time. The weeds were practically jetéing up out of the soil when I tugged. Weeding can definitely be a chore that never seems to end. But I admit, I like the instant gratification.
As I progressed, I noticed everything around me. The birds singing. The occasional pine cone dropping. The absence of helicopters overhead. No cars vrooming by. Off in the distance, I tuned into the sound of a basketball bouncing. Painfully slowly. Just, a bounce.
He didn’t stop and shoot. There was no sound of a backboard or hoop. The dribbling didn’t get any faster. He was just alone. With nothing else to do. As if in a trance, he and I shared the slow, rhythmic sound of that ball hitting his driveway. I could tell he was bored. Missed his friends. I felt sad for him. But at the same time, my worries paused, and I felt a surge of gratitude flowing within me.
I kept rattling off in my head how much goodness I had:
A garden to tend to. Thank god for these weeds.
A house to protect my child.
The sun warming my shoulders. Even the soil felt heated as I touched it with my bare fingers.
My back is pain-free, healed, and re-strengthened after a recent strain.
I’ve been able to stay in touch with friends and family, near and far, during this difficult time.
They went on and on in my head. The reminders of how much I have to be grateful for, especially now, are humbling.
What calmed me the most was the boy and his basketball. He reminded me of hope. He got himself outside. He kept bouncing that ball. It was so goddamn slow, but he did it. For what felt like an hour.
We’re going to be OK.
Janay Cox, March 27
Juliet Hope Wayne, circa March 30
Tammi Markowitz, April 1: Today, I feel scared. The United States has become the country with the single most cases of coronavirus and there are projections that millions of people in this country will still contract the virus and hundreds of thousands will die. Those figures are mind blowing and terrifying and much of the optimism and joy I have been walking around with over the last few weeks is starting to feel crushed by the onslaught of information and the terrifying projections.
I am worried about my parents. I worry about them every day. Mom has been in and out of the hospital over the last few years and earlier this year had a life-threatening case of pneumonia. My chest is tight with fear for them. I feel like it is only a matter of time before something happens that hits close to home.
August T. Modiga, April 15:
The western world will always struggle through any pandemic/epidemic because folks, the government should I say, lack an understanding of community and collectivism. The emphasis is placed on self-preservation with no regard for others. It’s as if the slightest concept human ecology does not exist.
Ubuntu goes beyond sheer camaraderie, it is a restorative practice and principle that states: We understand that if one member of our community is not well, the entire community will feel it, and so we do the work to ensure that we are all well.
Rebecca Fox, April 24: The cases in my town have reached over 30, which is horribly unsettling as the town isn’t even five miles long. I really just wish this could be over, and summer could go back to normal, and I could go back to my job, etc. I desperately want things to go back to normal, but I’m not saying we SHOULD. Obviously, we can’t — that wouldn’t be smart, just wishful thinking.
Jason Levin, April 25:
Juliet Wayne, circa April 26: “It just felt like seeing live music was long gone,” she said in an interview. “That’s what I was thinking about then.”
Tammi Markowitz, May 4: I know the time is fleeting. I know the days of lying in bed with him and smelling his freshly shampooed hair and rubbing his smooth soft cheek against mine will be gone in a single breath. I know that he won’t ask me to tickle his belly much longer or to sit in the bathroom while he showers so we can chat. I see it in the way he has started to drop my hand when we walk down the street only picking it back up again to cross a street. I see it in the way his face is getting longer and leaner, and in the way his shirts are starting to smell like sweat when I throw them in the washer at night. The baby days have given way. And so, I say yes to these quarantine days. I savor their sweetness.
Janay Cox, May 10: “I started sketching in kindergarten,” she said in an interview. “I’ve been sketching a lot more during quarantine.... I like fashion design.”
August Modiga, May 30:
Yeah I am hella single, but you know these Zoom dates are fun. This guy Anthony on Tinder is really ticking all the boxes, but, I have to take it slow. I am enjoying the journey though. I see a lot of Francesco (my ex) in him, the good parts of course.
So I went for a Black Lives Matter Protest yesterday at City Hall all the way to the Philadelphia Museum [of Art], and boy was it an experience. The journey really started when I was making the sign on my poster. I was wondering what should my poster say to get people thinking deeply about this movement. You know instead, it got me thinking, it reminded me of the words from James Baldwin: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time.” It is not shocking that those words are still relevant today; my poster read: “THERE WILL BE A RECKONING.”
Juliet Wayne, circa June 1: “I think the tighter the drawing is the more stressed out I was. … I was kind of hitting a wall with isolation.”
Tammi Markowitz, June 8: When us white girls talk about race, we usually start off with our evidence. Here is why we are not racist: Black friends, lived in Brooklyn once, diverse school, that one boyfriend we had in 10th grade, the Black studies courses we took in college. Often, we will sprinkle in some jabber about how we get how much we don’t get. In the end, our talk is all about us. We are raised to be liked and we are raised to be good. And so, our goal when we talk about race is that me-centered goal of ensuring that everyone knows we are “good.” Lots of other white people are bad. But us liberal white girls — we of course are not racist — not us.
But I am seeing, in the wake of more senseless deaths of innocent Black lives that our narcissistic rhetoric is making our Black friends weary. They see through it. They always have. Now they are telling us — “enough.” They are telling us to stop handing out anti-racist resumes and start actually doing something about the racist system in which we live. Start accepting that not only are we part of this system but that we benefit from holding it in place.
August Modiga, June 22:
I haven’t meditated seriously of late. I haven’t done the set intentions and probably missed the new moon, and after a series of bad days, I feel the need to retreat and reconnect with my innermost self. The same way [I] felt after leaving Musa’s house, the same way I felt in my last trip in South Africa. I need to stop wasting money. My weekend has been an overall grade C with entertaining, hopeful, kind spurts intermittently. All thanks to social media. I recognize that this is not healthy and I need to detox spiritually, mentally and physically. I am not in tune, I try to force it, but really, I am not and the past 3 days have been a manifestation, my energy is imbalanced. I need to recharge.
Rebecca Fox, June 25: After finishing five college courses that were never designed to be taught online, while maintaining straight A’s (albeit an A-), I realized that was a really difficult card to have been dealt, so anyone who can relate, including graduates that had their celebration stolen from them by a deadly virus, kudos to you. I see you and am proud of you. Sometimes it feels like college students can only relate to other college students, others just don’t understand, but oftentimes it brings tears to my eyes seeing all the signs of proud families, and watching some of my favorite people graduate from my computer.…
I am writing this today to pick up where I left off from my last coronavirus journal that ended the first week of May. Since then, I know it’s hard to believe anything could possibly get any worse, but I think the world is in shambles. The human race needs some serious help.
All my life I have awaited the day that I would turn 21 years old. ... Alas, my fate was to turn 21 in a global pandemic, when all my friends and family obviously had no obligations and could spend the weekend with me, it was literally forbidden. I still put a homemade sign outside of my house to get the community to help me out, reading, “1 honk = 1 shot. It’s my 21st birthday” next to my “Better Days Are Ahead” sign that I made to lift some spirits.
Jason Levin, June 30: