Waking up for my 9 a.m. lectures has been considerably harder since classes shifted online. Every dreaded Wednesday and Thursday I drag myself out of bed, mumble good morning to my parents who have been working diligently for two hours already, assemble some breakfast and haul my laptop and meal back upstairs to my room in one trip. I’ve gotten the timing down well — if I wake up at 8:45 a.m., I can do all this and arrive the acceptable five-minutes-late to my Zoom class with a hot cup of coffee in my hands.
I followed this routine to arrive at my environmental journalism class this morning. Our guest speaker was Dr. Preeti Malani, Chief Health Officer at the University. She has been at the forefront of the COVID-19 fight, advising President Mark Schlissel on University decisions related to the pandemic. Dr. Malani addressed the students first, sympathizing with our sudden relocations. “Some of you have your videos on, and judging by your backgrounds I can tell you’re probably at home,” she chuckled. I was one of the only students who’d kept their video on, and the embarrassing wall of my childhood bedroom was framed perfectly in the Zoom screen.
Transitioning to life in my parent’s house and childhood home tucked into a suburb of Metro Detroit, while still being a full-time student, has been a compelling narrative. I missed half of my BlueJeans lecture on Monday because we ran out of bandwidth — my brother was watching Netflix and my mom was on a video conference. I’ve been doing my yoga studio’s livestream classes on the floor between my bed and my desk, barely enough space to lay down a yoga mat. Yesterday I fell painfully, hitting my bottom on my bed frame, when my instructor suddenly commanded a headstand. Contorted upside down on my mat, I giggled. This pandemic, while devastating, will probably make for great stories later. When my kids ask me what I did during the generation-defining coronavirus quarantine, I’ll have plenty to say.
Dr. Malani wasn’t the first to call out my bedroom in a class, and I don’t blame her: When I was ten, I’d painted huge letters of my name and hung them along the top of the wall. I’ve never taken them down, so my room screams “TRINA” when you walk in. The letters are painted in radial symmetry: The T and A are purple with polka-dots, the R and N are deep blue with gold swirls, the I is bright rainbow with stripes. Below the letters hang paintings I did in high school, but most of the canvases are empty. I’ve grappled with painting them for years and can’t seem to muster up the courage, hesitating to disturb the tranquility that these blank white spaces hold. They seem strangely fitting at this time when everything seems uncertain in the world. They feel safe.
The rest of my room is comfortably mine, my bookshelf most of all. I’ve never taken away books from the case, only added, so the end result is a conglomerate of my whole life told through stories. The more recent additions are placed horizontally on top of the older titles, which rest vertically. I can’t remember the shelves ever having enough space for my adolescent bookworm needs.
When I run my fingers down the spines of my “Classics for Kids” collection, I pause at “Little Women.” My mother used to read it to me as I curled up in bed beside her, and I just watched the film a couple months ago at The Michigan Theater. My beloved “Percy Jackson” collection from middle school is covered by a painting I made at a social event for my volunteer organization at the University. My “Harry Potter” book collection from 20 years ago is topped off by Maeve Binchy novels, my reads for lazy high school summers.
My life feels like a glorious full circle.
On breaks between online classes, I wander over to the bookshelves in our basement where hundreds of National Geographic magazines lie in great yellow stacks. I’ve taken to skimming old editions to see which environmental problems were most pressing at the time. The April 1995 edition, from exactly 20 years ago, celebrates the 25th Earth Day and contains a long feature on California’s earthquakes. In it, geologists warn that a “new era of disastrous earthquakes” are coming to California. I think about how true that rings today.
The more I dig, the more my house reveals.
The books in my house trace my childhood, just like my bedroom is a time capsule into my past self. My house is a museum that accepts any and all artifacts, just like anyone’s life trajectory is an accumulation of varied experiences. Nostalgia is a bizarre emotion — it graces my thoughts frequently but I can never come to terms with it. Maybe that’s exactly what nostalgia is supposed to be: The very nature of it makes it unconquerable, surprising you when you least expect it.
I wonder, will I ever be nostalgic for COVID-19? Not in the strict sense of the term: This pandemic won’t give me fond memories worth reminiscing on. But maybe it’s not such a ridiculous question. If you’re lucky enough to be stuck at home during this pandemic, do some digging. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.