March 8: Bernie and AOC are comin’ to town!

The sight looked like something out of a college commercial, with wide-eyed students strutting across campus in jolly posses and the streets of Ann Arbor beaming with Michigan pride. Throughout the morning, vans lit up in reds and blues took to the center of the Diag, setting up sound equipment with the anticipatory glee of a Christmas Eve. Brightly-colored souvenir tables lined a defrosted South University Avenue. Bernie and AOC were comin’ to town.

When I think about 2020, the day of Bernie Sanders’s rally at the Diag proves to be a highlight for me. Not because it was the first major political rally I had ever attended or because it was the first time I heard Bernie’s molasses-thick voice booming in person. I remember that day because it carries a few significant lasts.

It was the last time that year that I would exist in a crowd of thousands, crammed against a stranger and his wife, taking in the faint smell of weed in the air but not caring because Bernie was standing on the same ground that I was standing on. It was the last time in 2020 that I would be overcome with a genuine sense of pride to be a Michigan Wolverine, savoring the knowledge that Bernie could have campaigned anywhere, and he chose our campus to do it.

The day was pre-pandemic bliss and provided a palpable Michigan pride I hope to never take for granted again. 

— Grace Tucker, Senior Arts Editor

March 11:  The beginning of the month that felt like a single day

Memory is defined by what we forget. While examining my memories to find a day that defined 2020, I realized that I blended an entire month of my life into a single day of memory, like a long streak of paint. I remember the entire month of March as if discrete events that happened weeks apart occurred in a single day. Of course, I know that’s not the case.

The first event that comes to mind is the moment we found out classes were going fully online. The Winter 2020 term was supposed to be my last full term at the University, but my plans for finishing my final credits had changed in an instant with the onset of the pandemic. I have a memory that recalls physical and auditory details with unbelievable accuracy. 

I was able to remember how I had ripped open all of the Chanukkah presents while sleepwalking in the middle of the night at my grandmother’s house, something no one else had ever told me about but which I relived in vivid detail through a recurring dream. Yet, these photographic slices are often implanted in my corpus of memory in an entirely non-linear way. When I recall the events of March 11, 2020, I mistakenly recall my final day at work in the physical Hopwood Room, which was actually the first day classes were fully online. What day was that? I’m still unsure.

The second event that seems like part of that day, as if it took place after the decision to go online had been rendered official, is the moment my boss asked me to clean the Hopwood Room because Helen Zell herself was supposed to pay her eponymous writing program a visit. I remember there were snacks, and I was having dust allergies that concerned various members of the English Department’s administration given the context. The insinuation then was that some events would proceed as usual, albeit on a smaller scale and with none of them open to the public.

I had so many questions: Was it going to be just a few people and Zell? Would I have a moment alone with Zell? Would everyone wear masks and gloves, shedding and replacing them immediately after touching something? Then, in a kind of jump cut, I saw my coworker and I waiting for our boss just inside Angell Hall. She arrived with numerous bags. She was wearing a mask. The three of us giggled nervously.

“There she is, and she’s wearing a mask,” my co-worker acknowledged matter-of-factly as she approached. 

I’m not sure if this was the same day, but the third event I’ve recounted to friends as part of that month-as-a-single-day blur is the afternoon I finally got to scrubbing the entire room top-to-bottom in anticipation of Helen Zell’s arrival. On that day, I removed all of the literary magazines from their shelves, removed the component parts of those shelves, and scrubbed. I scrubbed and disinfected the room as if preparing it for open heart surgery, right there out on the center table with its wood paneling, reflective glass and decorative display of books from that month’s visiting writers. I disinfected table legs, the backs of chairs and every other visible surface you can imagine.

Helen Zell never came. One week later, at the beginning of April, I drove to Gardiner, Montana to stay with a friend to wait out the pandemic, and attended my classes at bleary morning hours with my iPad in a hammock. This notably included a class on ecological catastrophe. I would never see the interior of the beloved Hopwood Room, with its corner office and kitchen space jammed with snacks and thirty different kinds of tea, or its veritably ancient typewriter and cabinets of Arthur Miller’s correspondence, ever again.

—  Sierra Élise Hansen, Daily Arts Writer

July 18: Comet Neowise speeds past Earth 

I’m a sucker for celestial events, but not for astrological reasons. There’s something extraordinarily humbling in witnessing an eclipse or gazing up at the densely clustered stars of the Milky Way belt. It’s why I drove 550 miles in a cramped sedan to watch the total solar eclipse in Tennessee four years ago. And it’s why this summer, in the midst of months plagued by COVID-induced restlessness, I was fixated on catching a glimpse of Comet Neowise in July. 

Comet Neowise, which wasn’t scheduled to appear in viewing distance from the Earth for another 6,800 years, was visible for a narrow window of time this July. My family and I journeyed to an old cornfield, where we knew the sky would be dark, and pulled onto the shoulder of a dirt road after seeing other cars doing the same. 

I knew the steps to locate the comet by heart: Trace your finger from the edge of the Big Dipper constellation to the North Star, find the midpoint of those two stars, then look about halfway down to the treeline. 

But I was overwhelmed by a different sight when I leaped out of the car — thousands of fireflies danced between the corn stalks, a kaleidoscope of shimmering lights amid a sea of pitch-black darkness. When I finally found Comet Neowise, first with binoculars and then with my naked eye, I couldn’t think of a more perfect spot to view it. I can recall the comet’s image itself — a fiery rock trailed by a long streak of melting ice — with the same intensity as I saw it that night. 

When I look back on this pandemic-stricken summer, it’s moments like these that come to mind. The power and grace of our Earth astound me every day, and this summer so many others like me stopped to take notice. 

— Trina Pal, Daily Arts Writer 

July 23: A gift from Taylor Swift

After an agonizing 10-hour shift at Jamba Juice, awake was the last thing I wanted to be. Nevertheless, the sun having pried open my weary eyes, I capitulated, sat up and proceeded to check my email.

From: Taylor Nation

Subject: New Album, folklore, Available Tonight! 

I was jolted awake.

The following hours were a fever dream: I recollect next to nothing, only the agonizing weight of anticipation. In my infinite luck, midnight Eastern was also 10 p.m. Mountain Time, meaning my workday would end in something with the potential to pull me out of my pandemic-induced tedium.

Folklore was not, is not and will never be my favorite Taylor Swift album. Nevertheless, the timing was perfect. As I drove through the mountain roads of Salt Lake City, desperately wishing to be where my life left off, back in school, back with friends, back to my old self, she brought me empathy. Something about the unprecedented sorrow the album evoked struck a chord with me. She took the hurt I experienced during that fateful summer of quarantine and put it into words. 

Tracks like “my tears ricochet” and “the 1” evoked a sense of profound loneliness that was universal and deeply personal all at once. My favorite track, “the last great american dynasty,” outlines the life and myth of American socialite Rebekah Harkness. Swift details that “They say she was seen on occasion / Pacing the rocks, staring out at the midnight sea,” as if to compare Harkness to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous Gatsby, arms outstretched toward an elusive dream.  

Folklore captures several attempts, from several perspectives, to be heard and understood, despite a seemingly infinite divide. Yet somehow, she overcomes the divide and unites the fragile and excruciating humanity within us all. The sting of distance, the ever-present pangs of the great and excruciating “what if,” are all communicated without judgement or expectation.  

It was by no means what I expected, but precisely what I needed.

— Darby Williams, Daily Arts Writer

September 8: The GEO strike begins

Only a week after the University began its naively ambitious hybrid semester, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) launched a strike protesting against the campus reopening plans. University operations were thrown into disarray in the weeks that followed, as many important issues were brought to light.

On the very first day of the strike, I stepped outside my comfort zone. I never expected I’d end up marching on a picket line this year, but weirder things certainly happened in 2020. The word whispered behind closed doors was that turnout would be crucial, so for the first time since the pandemic started, I woke up long before the sun, fully determined to join the very first shift of picketers. 

At the ripe hour of 5 a.m., I joined the picket line, unsure and anxious about what was to come. My roommates and I were the only undergraduates in our small group of protesters, decked out in black with our picket signs. We were located outside of a major construction site as one of many groups positioned around campus with the goal of bringing University construction to a halt. At some point in the dark of the morning, we didn’t see the clouds gathered above until the downpour was pelting against our backs. 

Without having brought anything to brave the weather except the sweatshirt on my back, I spent just about three hours marching in the pouring rain. Just when I thought I couldn’t go any further, a lone construction worker brought us an umbrella and the coat off his back — he was the first and only bystander to show us kindness, and his umbrella still hangs in my closet as a reminder of that day.

— Hadley Samarco, Daily Arts Writer

November 7: Biden’s victory on Michigan Gameday 

For the last four days, CNN had been a permanently open tab, an essential addition to my browser given my new nervous habit of clicking over to the fragmented map and zooming in on the tiny percentage gaps in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Georgia. I’d then switch to the Associated Press, then the New York Times and every hour or so I’d glance at the Fox headline. Variations of the routine were clearly shared with many of my peers. Even while waiting for stop lights or walking through the Diag, people’s faces were lit up by the red and blue maps on their phone screens.

Constant tension hung over the whole week, with daily acknowledgements of the weight of the election and every TV screen showing the same statistics over a handful of states. By the time we got to Nov. 7, we had witnessed something very different from the traditional one-night sprint of “election day.” This was a marathon.

On Saturday morning at 11:24 a.m., when CNN called the election for Biden, the sun was shining and students were walking in the streets. Fittingly, it was also a gameday, and the school spirit was spiked with patriotism as news of Biden’s victory spread across campus. The already heightened enthusiasm reached a level I had never witnessed before, with cars honking and masked students running on the sidewalks. The shared sense of pride for our school and country, even given their shortcomings and failures, was palpable. It was a bright, hopeful day at the end of a stressful week and a very difficult year.

— Caroline Atkinson, Daily Arts Writer

November 10: The spoon

It was November 10. Just three days prior, Joe Biden had officially been declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, ending my six-month love-affair/addiction/hate-scrolling of Twitter. Finally, I could relax a bit. Thanksgiving break was soon, Biden had won, the world was not yet ending.

On this fateful day at around 10 p.m., I was reclining on my couch, most likely playing FIFA or watching “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” when suddenly a horrific cacophony of noise filled my ears. My roommate was using my blender to make a smoothie and something was horribly wrong. I looked over at him. He wore a bemused expression on his face. He had stopped the blender.

“What’s wrong?”

“Uh, I don’t know what’s going on. These are some hard-ass blueberries or something.”

“Here, wait, maybe you didn’t have enough milk, sometimes that can make it hard for the blender to run.” 

My roommate added more milk to the blender and the terrible noises began again.

“That’s not good. What did you do?”

“Nothing, dude, I’m just making a smoothie … I don’t know what happened. I haven’t done anything.”

My roommate opens the top of the blender. “Ohhhh …” He begins to laugh. “I accidentally left a spoon in there.” 

He pulls a mangled, scarred and completely broken silver spoon out of the blender. There’s a slight pause as we both take in the scene. My roommate holds the recently blended spoon with a touch of reverence. Think Rafiki holding Simba at Pride Rock.

A few more seconds pass. Finally my roommate breaks the silence. “Do you think I can still drink this?” he asks, gesturing to the half-blended smoothie.

You might have a lot of questions. How was the spoon in the blender? Why was the spoon in the blender? Did he really just ask if he could drink the spoon smoothie? How hard does he think blueberries are? Don’t worry, I had all of those same questions. In fact I still do, two months later. 

— Peter Hummer, Community Culture Beat Editor

December 27: A Menards epiphany

In late December, I went to Menards with my dad. Part of our fence was falling toward the neighbor’s yard, and a heavy snow proved to be the final straw. 

At that point, Menards really should’ve been paying Papa to sell their merchandise. The tomato sauce for pasta that night, the flannel-lined jeans, the Goo Gone and the piece of wood to prop up the fence all came from the Midwestern home improvement chain. As a daughter home from college, I knew joining him for the expedition — masked and bundled up — would make his day. 

Like many others during the pandemic, my dad lost his job back in August. As he continues to apply for jobs during the day, his afternoons and evenings are dedicated to fixing and cleaning parts of the house: repainting the garage door, replacing light bulbs, clearing the gutters and vacuuming the rugs. 

It’s challenging to find purpose amid a global pandemic, economic depression and political strife. Yet, Papa had found something to look forward to. Since April, his siblings and parents Zoom every Friday night, even with the 14-hour time difference. My cousins in the U.S. and the Philippines also had four-hour Among Us and Skribbl games during winter break, forging bonds even with thousands of miles separating us. 

Coming home from Menards that day, Papa said he had so much fun finding the right piece of wood, talking to some begrudging teenaged store employees, talking about stocking up on more flashlights for the impending apocalypse, cutting our piece of wood using their electric saw and hauling that piece home. And that afternoon was fun — connecting with Papa, driving through the suburbs with the sky painted pastel and holding onto the people who made 2020 a year worth fighting through. 

— Nina Molina, Daily Arts Writer