Earth goes round and round

Loneliness and connection on campus during the pandemic

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Parker Peters/Daily Collegian

By Ran Ren “David”, Collegian Contributor

2021 is going to get better, isn’t it? I’m not trying to stir up false hopes here. One thing I’ve learned from 2020, and I hope you did too, is to take life as it is, day by day. You may be asking yourself: what are you talking about? The answer is this:

One: With socializing

It was the first day of fall 2020 semester; the first afternoon since move-in. I knocked on my neighbor’s door across the hall. I wanted connections so bad, so why not make them right here right now? I waited and waited, listening to my own heartbeat. It started syncopating like a guitar. I stepped two steps back and watched the door slowly turn ajar.

“I really appreciate that you knocked and said hi! I like that, but people rarely do it!”

Some conversation later, Instagram mutually friended, days passed, hands of clocks did consecutive roundhouse kicks. I went to many groups and events. There were only three people there: me, myself and I. A snap of Thanos’ fingers. All hopes seemed lost. Advisors and wisemen told me: “Do be patient! You’re doing all the right things.” The words “hope is a good thing” meant as much to me as they did to Andy in Shawshank’s prison cell, longing for a day to break free. At least No. 1 dining packed up my gut. Picked out the phone from my jeans’ pocket, at the Instagram icon I balked. People seemed cold and indifferent. Things felt one-sided. Should I keep on? Phone screen locked and then I tossed it in the back pocket of my bag.

Two: With self and solitude

Living in a different country and having travelled to different places, my friends scattered across the world, I have no one here with me. More so now that COVID hit. 400 days. Alone. Abroad.

People walk through campus center in small groups, talking about some years ago when they became friends: “same junior high all through high school, now how lucky we got to come to UMass together.” Homie’s appreciation made me happy for them, but a crippling melancholy drew a shadow on my mind. I still greet them with a nod when I see anyone: janitor, students, parents.

Three: With the short view of school

I took actions. There are many ideas of what a man is nowadays. I believe in action.

I took over the International Student Club and talked to heads of several school departments —International student office, registrar, dean of students— to pitch ideas for activities to connect and be a part of. This helped me feel more connected to people and made me realize the school’s activeness even during COVID.

By becoming something larger than my own life, I found some solace. But for all the action to take place, it takes time and commitment. I stayed by myself most of time. No partying to wait out case surges. I was safe and protected other people. I want things to go back to normal, fast. This felt at odds with how I would live in a different time, but I am willing to trade it in for everybody’s safety. It felt painful. A book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” still resonates with me: “it is how one responds to tragedy that becomes what one is.” Prime of life, but feel “all dressed up’ got nowhere to go?” “Do we need somebody? Or are we just scared to be lonely?” Being alone comes with one perk: I feel freed.

Meditating, dancing, going on long walks. Boring life: being boring makes it funny if I see it from a different angle. In normal life I had a ton, but seriously, the apocalypse happens once in a forever.

With no commute, I can go anywhere online in no time. I am learning to compose songs, make fire bars and EDMs. Flute can cross over into modern pop music too. That’s my plan. It’s hard to self-teach, but I keep telling myself, “don’t get frustrated with the plan. I am getting there.”

Four: With the long view of life

This too shall pass. I started learning skills for amusement. This apocalypse turned me into a pro at things like guitar, calisthenics, cooking and plumbing. Skiing after snowstorms in snow boots was a blast. I don’t know if I’d recommend it. I have a few professions to fall back on if my career does not work out, so I am not worried thanks to COVID. I want to thank myself for hanging in there. This piece is a manifesto of all my true “deeds,” feelings and emotions. “You’re not alone” is what I want to tell you and you to tell your friends. This does not do much, so reach me at @david.ran.ren on Instagram. I don’t want to sugarcoat loneliness and say, “oh, it’s nothing.” I’m looking forward to hearing your voices and thoughts on how you cope with loneliness.

Interviews with people; new and old friends:

Victoria said:

“I cope by taking in the little things far more. The freedom of being able to play the piano anytime at home, working on art, being on long calls with friends and playing games online. I’ve had more time to figure out my place work-wise as well as politically. I even am reshaping the future I planned out for the past seven years. It’s both difficult to stay away from work, but also relieving, because you are finally out of the loop of constant mechanism of in person school.”

Jason said:

“Before COVID, I wasn’t at home most of the day only seeing my pets briefly often not paying much attention to them. Since COVID struck, the bond I have built with my cats has been immaculate. They know when I’m sad and know what I need help. They’re a good constant in an inconsistent world.”

Devon said:

“I’m a project manager now.

I put together projects

Bootcamps and speaker series involving UMass alum

Made slides for presentations

Sourcing projects all the prep work.

Not much else.”

I will wrap this up and strap up the winter boots on my feet.

David can be reached at @david.ran.ren Instagram and [email protected]