In the dark stillness of my room, my thoughts tend to consume me, and it is then I realize I no longer know what to make of my life amid a pandemic. When I look at it from afar, I want something exciting and grand. Not ‘exciting’ in the sense that living through a pandemic should be, but exciting in the sense that I want to be drawn in and utterly consumed by the little things in life. Waking up to my dog licking my face, playing another game of Among Us with my siblings after their insistent begging, turning in an assignment that I pushed away for ‘later.’ But when I look closer and think of the exhaustion pulling away at my flesh and bones after staying up all night finishing that assignment I put off, I think of how much I’m missing out on. The little things simply aren’t enough.
At least, they certainly didn’t feel like enough before the quarantine. Looking back, I’ve realized now that they were the only things to get me through it. When the first stay-at-home order was issued, everyone turned to gardening, painting, cooking, and more. All I had was my overwhelming sense of melancholy. It’s not that staying home was an issue, but it was the sudden loss of everything stimulating that I was having trouble coming to terms with. I like going to school, I miss seeing my friends in the classroom, I miss stopping at 7-Eleven for candy and soda and walking to the theater a few blocks away to catch the last showing of a low budget horror film. I liked flipping through books in the library and wishing there was brighter lighting in the hallways because it could get awfully dark once the sun slipped low in the sky. To me, those weren’t little things. They were the big moments that made up my life and they were suddenly gone. All of them. Suddenly I had nothing to look forward to, nothing to distract me. I didn’t know who I was or how to act without those things to rely on.
I began to question everything I had thought to be certain. Did I like going to school or did I like seeing my friends? Why did I always go to the theater if I never liked any of the films they showed? Why hadn’t I gone to the library more if I was always so productive when I was there? It was a confrontational period for me and in some ways, that confrontation never brought on resolutions.
I realized there’s so much of me that comes from everything I take in from the outside world. Like many of us, I relied on external sources to shape an internal understanding of myself, not just from the people I used to interact with daily, but from material objects that would catch my attention as well. People, places, and things would instill an intimate curiosity in me, creating a transcendental, artistic plane I could only hope to reach through a detached sense of appreciation. I long to experience this again, to see a handcrafted jar, a sculpture carved from the dark thickness of clay, brown eyes staring up at me from a long lost painting. Despite their stationary stillness, my mind brought them to life. When they were taken, I suddenly felt like I had lost a big part of myself. Friends too, the ones who practically lived in museums, galleries, coffee shops, bookstores, the ones who lived for the times they would get to retreat to their little corners of the world, all felt this loss of identity.
I finally felt like I had found my little corner of the world again when I started UCLA one morning in the summer of 2020. I was nervous with anticipation and wondered if I was good enough for this school that I had only stepped foot on twice in my life. Opening up Zoom and logging into that very first class, going over the syllabus, and meeting people that I had no way of knowing would become very important to me in the future was the first time I felt truly excited about something since quarantine had started. It wasn’t just that UCLA had been an unattainable dream until I was accepted, it was about shaking off the dirt and the grit of my sadness and making something of the opportunity I had been given. It was about implementing a new mindset in which I would finally learn to appreciate the small gifts life has to offer.
I tried applying this mindset to everything I did. Logging onto Zoom wasn’t just about clicking a link, it was about gaining access to a world I had never before been privy to. Reading a syllabus was learning about the inner-workings of the professor’s mind. Being put into breakout rooms allowed me to establish deeper connections with classmates that I would otherwise only have insignificant fleeting conversations with. Doing this allowed me to make connections about the world around me and appreciate them from a fresh perspective.
This newfound appreciation turned into something even greater. Suddenly it wasn’t about the slippage of one day to the next, it was about discovering what made each day different. One day I decided to rearrange my desk so that potted plants could bring life to my workspace with a fresh and earthy feeling. Another day I indulged in a giant bag of Cheetos and a bowl of fruit loops during class with the camera off. Some other times we watched George Lopez in class and discussed our critical commentary in the chat. This personalization and adjustment into these new, exciting things felt like I had finally settled into my mid-quarantine life (and quarter-life crisis).
These things make me realize I don’t need to depend on movie theaters and 7-Eleven or dimly lit hallways to make me happy. I don’t need the reassurance of the outside world or the structured schedule of going from one place to the next. I need the ability to create happiness with the little things that come my way.
In this strange floaty world composed of college and quarantine, in this space between the things that were so important to us back then and the things we turn to for alleviation of mundanity now, in this pocket of time that feels like a neverending waiting game, it is so easy to lose sight of what matters and of who we are. Are we the words exchanged in a conversation with friends, the books we choose to read outside of class, the plants poking up through dark soil that we’ve been gardening for several months? My answer to that is that who we are consists of everything we choose to do with our time. Yes, it may not seem ‘exciting’ or ‘grand’ at first, but they don’t have to be. They just have to be enough.