It has been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed our lives. Young people in particular found it a relief to fully experience the world at a crucial time of growth and development.
Parents around the world are beaming with all sorts of questions to help capture the toll of the pandemic, such as: How has the pandemic affected our children? Has distance learning slowed down your education? Has reduced socialization affected their development?
Historian Alexandra Zapruder wanted to document what today’s young people are going through, so she asked a number of students to send in their diary entries. The project is called Dispatch from quarantine, launched in April 2020, and these questions have been explored and answered through all kinds of mediums – like the stringing together of words, the brushstrokes, or the strands of a ukulele.
Naiobi Benjamin’s song “Not What I Planned”
“With the spread of social media, I started thinking about how diaries were essentially being replaced,” Zapruder tells NPR’s Morning Edition. “And what has been lost a bit is the kind of silent reflection, the authentic preservation of experiences that are recorded in diaries. And I am very interested in preserving that.”
Zapruder’s interest in documenting youth is simple: it is fleeting.
“It goes so fast and once it’s over it’s lost forever. We can’t take that position again because anyone who knows someone who lives with a teenager knows how strange that perspective can be,” adds she added.
Zapruder was not invested in a generic writing project, but was interested in “the idea of showing young people how their writing can really exist today on a continuum of writers who have written for more than 100 years”. Although participants mainly wrote the obvious, such as their general grief over the absence of school or prom, the fact that there is so much unexpected was still attractive.
I was sick until proof
healthy. My mother
left me small groceries
placed on paper plates
running on the stairs
gone when I came out.
A date, some almonds
stabbed a sweet potato
with a fork.
I despised her for it
Afraid of me for crying
to the doctor when she comes down
I will panic. I didn’t come down.
I stayed silent for six days
I didn’t get out four of them
from the bed.
Through quick, blunt stanzas, The 18 year old Maya Siegel notes The initial wave of panic and tension in her household subsided when she was in quarantine.
“And she says this thing that I absolutely adore, my mother is starting to ration the seltzer water,” notes Zapruder. “Like that little detail that is so powerful.”
I can hear the birds chirping all the time now. I’ve never listened to the birds before. too busy walking around from activity to activity. So many things have been taken from my life and replaced. Yes, through worry and fear, but also through time, my silver lining. For the first time in so long, I could just stop and sit. I was able to focus on myself and heal a bit in a world that is so broken.
in the this note from 16 year old Claire HammondShe documents the little moments of mindfulness she felt in the chaos of the pandemic. Life has slowed down so much that she can feel a bit more free from the limitations of everyday life.
I still remember clearly when the coronavirus outbreak happened in China. I checked the data on the number of cases every morning when I woke up. I was worried about my family and friends in China. The coronavirus became the topic we discussed at the dining table. I worried about my family every day, but all I could do was take care of myself and watch people go through all of these tragedies. The whole world is having a hard time this year. In human history, when there was a world crisis, it always brought us together to unite as a whole and to fight against the crisis. I didn’t have a chance to prove it before the virus broke out, but I can feel that very strongly now. People from different countries fight together against our enemy.
We shouldn’t blame or compare ourselves at this point. If we face this together as a group, I believe our enemy will soon surrender.
Zapruder told Morning Edition how happy it was that the project had reached international scope. In this example, 16-year-old Fiona Dong went to school in Massachusetts but was asked to return to her home in China. your full submission guides readers on their journey home – in detail about the fear of traveling in turbulent times and a two-week quarantine in a hotel in their hometown of Xi’an.
I had two tests yesterday and the most stressful part of taking quizzes and tests is when you have to upload them. In school, it’s so much easier when you just hand in a piece of paper. […] Every time I try to upload it I have to do it at least twice as the internet keeps crashing. We have so many people all trying to work on the same internet. My parents do their jobs and me and my brother and sister do school. I’m really sick of it. I’ve been in quarantine for about 9 weeks. The only human interaction I have is with my family.
Sam Kofman writes about sharing the internet with four other members of his family, and the stress of filing a paper while the internet keeps giving way.
“It’s something we all go through, you know, and we want and have to keep those little details, because that’s the texture of everyday life,” says Zapruder of the extract. “This is the stuff we’ll forget in 20 years.”
Zapruder says the project reiterates something she believed in so deeply – that young people and what they have to say are important.
The complete shipments from the quarantine collection can be viewed on Zapruder’s website.
Phil Harrell and Reena Advani produced and edited the audio story.