When the world upends, it’s natural that you should be upended too. If someone pulls the rug out from under you, you can’t help but trip and fall.
When my school announced the start of a two week hiatus due to concern over COVID-19, I wasn’t worried. I thought I’d stay home for a few weeks before returning to my habitual activities, and life would continue on as normal.
The first month, I did the exact same thing at home that I would’ve done at school. I spent three hours a day studying for my AP tests. I did my math homework with extreme diligence, triple checking all my answers. I sang my songs for choir for hours on end and read books like Middlemarch and Stalingrad. I was determined that when we went back to school, I would be even smarter than I’d been when we left.
But then, we didn’t go back to school. And I was lost, because there was no one to impress. I had been running in the same hamster wheel for so long, and now it felt like someone had taken the wheel away. Yet I kept running, and as time wore on, I lost my motivation to do anything. I’d sit down and stare at the clock, knowing I should be doing something, but not having the energy to do it.
I was exhausted, but at night, I couldn’t fall asleep. Scenes from my childhood would come to me, unbidden, taking me back to a place so far off it seemed like a fairytale. Images would collide; the bright colors of my Road Dahl books, the small font of my mother’s copy of Anne of Green Gables, the ribbons hanging from the Dear America books I got from the library, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, the spine worn from the number of times I’d read it. In my dreams, I’d flip through the pages of the countless journals I had written in, watching the handwriting get messier and messier as I got older.
One morning, when I woke up, instead of reaching for my computer or my textbooks, I reached for a journal. I didn’t know what to say, but I started writing and watched my halting thoughts transform into smooth, well constructed sentences.
Before the pandemic, I’d built my entire identity around one single element: being the perfect student. All my friends were so smart and accomplished and I wanted to be just as incredibly as they were. But they weren’t around for me to emulate anymore. My life was completely my own, now. And I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to feel like life was worth living for myself, not simply because I needed to get a good score on the SAT.
So I pulled out all the books I’d hidden in my closet, the ones that wouldn’t make it on a list of one hundred books to read before you die. I curled up in bed and ate candy and read tons of forgettable YA novels with stereotypical characters. I stayed up late watching Youtube videos of my favorite boy bands. I took long walks and listened to Iron and Wine, sweating out all the anxiety building in my stomach. I started writing poems again, spending evenings on the back porch playing with metaphors and imagery.
I imagine, in my school full of future doctors, lawyers, and politicians, I’m the only one who spent the pandemic this way. But I’m fine with that. I’ve learned my passion is not for politics or medicine or science; it’s for literature. Not too long ago, I tried to run from my passion, because I thought literature was less impressive than other pursuits. I’m not running anymore. Being a writer and a bookworm is something I’ll never able to change about myself, and since I can’t change it, I’ve decided to embrace it.