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MIT blogger Sabrina M. '21

One Day at a Time by Sabrina M. '21

or, springing into junior year, part 2: electric boogaloo

Last Thursday morning, I met with my therapist and told him about everything that’s happened since we last met, mostly focused on the developing situation at MIT. He’d already heard (it’s hard not to be constantly plugged in when there’s breaking news every few hours), but I went on anyway, telling him how I felt a mixture of calm and anxiety, and I couldn’t quite tell which one was winning over me.

I’m not afraid, I said to him in our last five minutes, but I’ve been having trouble sleeping.

I said it just to get it out there, to grasp at a solution for anything I could actually have control over. I waited for him to tell me what to do, hoping he’d have a simple answer I could follow.

Maybe you should try not reading the news before bed. I thought about the nightmares I’ve had, ranging from totally unrealistic-but-terrifying to indistinguishable from life. I thought about waking up at 3am in a panic because a fire truck01 or an ambulance, or a police car, i don’t truly know drove by my open window, alarms blazing.

It seemed so simple yet so difficult, the idea of not going down a hole of constant live updates across the globe right before sleeping. I decided to try it, muting the words coronavirus and covid-19 and even just corona02 rip to all the beer tweets i’ll be missing on the Twitter account I frequent before bed, and politely asking my roommates to not constantly update me on the world situation after 9 pm. Even though classes weren’t set to start for another two weeks, I wanted to maintain some semblance of normalcy and keep up my routine of waking up at the same time every morning, showering, eating breakfast, and whatever else I do when I’m normally heading out. Sleeping is a big part of that—how can I feel normal if I can’t even sleep through the night?

That night, I lay in bed, shooing off passing thoughts. I will not visit the New York Times Live Updates page. I will not read and reread the Wikipedia pages. I will not even look at jokes about it. It was an internal mantra that I told myself over and over while I tried to mindlessly scroll. I texted my roommate and sent a link for an adjustable dumbbell set we were thinking of buying, noticing a new unread text from MIT’s alert system. Friday’s classes were cancelled, and the move-out date was being pushed from Tuesday to Sunday, and MIT was at this point, seemingly begging students to please go anywhere, anywhere that’s not here, in a way that felt very much like the hosts of a party trying to get people out at 3am: You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.

In truth, I’m one of the lucky ones. As I’ve written before, I live off campus, so I don’t have to worry about packing my life up and heading back to New York. On top of that, I’m a junior, which is quite frankly the most uneventful of the Spring semesters you can have, anyway. That, already, removes so much of the massive stress burdening all my classmates. While my peers fly across the country, I’m texting my mom and assuring her that I’m alive and okay and yes, staying put is probably the best thing I can do. I don’t have Senior Ball outfit I need to figure out when to wear now, and my Brass Rat already sits on my shelf, collecting dust. I feel for my classmates, I do, and I know this could always get worse. Yet still, I can’t help but shake the feeling of anxiety and uncertainty in my head. It’s thick in the air, and even as I go for walks just to be outside I know everyone else feels it, too.03 nearly every stranger i walk by in passing is talking about it

Now, as the dust settles at MIT, the world seems to be getting kicked up further and further. On Monday, I had my first tele-therapy call in my bedroom, sitting on my small armchair while I tried to imagine an office, the light filtering in through the blinds and a cup of water handy. My sister informed me that my parents at home attended an online mass on Sunday, since New York’s stopped Catholic services statewide. Gradually, we adjust, but the lack of control I imagine everyone feels as strongly as I do feels more apparent each day. 

Growing up, whenever I’d have something particularly stressful going on in my life, my mom would always tell me to “leave it in God’s hands”. That’s never been something that’s come easy to me, to just relinquish my role in things and hope it gets better. I think it’s part of the reason I ended up at MIT—that drive to take matters into my own hands and keep pushing forward. Now, I find myself unable to do anything, whether it’s as grand as stopping a pandemic or as small as comforting a friend. All there is to do is wait. Wait inside, spending most of the day on the same plot of land, and hope everyone else does the same. I still struggle with leaving it in someone else’s hands, as much as I wish it came easy to me. But, I’m trying to take it day by day. 

We want to make sure that we are fine owning what we can own, and have full ownership in that which we can master. Those are the words my professor said to us in our last lecture as we ate Hershey’s kisses to try to feel better. It’s a small reminder that it’s not all bad. I’m maintaining calm, as is the rest of my house. To be fair, it’s only been a few days of it for me, and a little over a week for some of my other roommates, so my opinion might change down the road. Here’s how I’ve been holding up, and what my foreseeable future will (probably) look like:

Life

My mornings start mostly the same as before, a small attempt at keeping up with routine—I wake up at 8AM,04 7am on mondays shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast. This time, there are more people around, so I might make it with someone else. If my one specific roommate is awake and ready, we’ll go on a ~15 minute walk to replicate the feeling of our normal commutes. We wash our hands thoroughly and wipe our phones and knobs and remotes with disinfectant wipes when we come back home, repeating this new habit multiple times a day. And then, I’ll try to work like I normally would, stopping for an hour to make lunch at roughly noon. I know it’s supposed to be a break, sort of, but I’ll succumb to my own guilt regarding productivity, and my fear regarding the state of the world if I let the time pass by without trying to do something.

Our dining room has been converted into a home office of sorts, with my school work littering the table, and no less than three computers at a time. Must admit, it’s pretty hard to get actual work done, what with the news constantly breaking and discussion constantly following. On the bright side, we did stock up on snacks, so it truly feels like a developing start-up’s home-converted-office. So far, our chalkboard reads (not pictured): Days in Isolation: IIII I.

a photo of me and three other roommates sitting at the table with our computers

from before everyone cracked on day 3 and started to work in their rooms, featuring a not-yet updated calendar

In theory, I’ll be keeping up with my exercise routine, but I haven’t really. I ordered two twenty pound dumbbells online, so I’m just counting down the days until they arrive so I can not feel like my hard work is withering away. In the meantime, three of us went to the park by our house and did a workout circuit, lunging across the field and hopping up and doing dips on a bench. At least there’s nothing barring us from being outside in the open, just three roommates a few feet apart in a green expanse. At home, we did planks and an ab circuit in our den, which has effectively become a yoga studio for another one of my roommates, who wakes up at 6AM to do it.

a photo of my roommate and i doing lunges at the park

lunge baby lunge

I’ve been watching a lot of television and film with my roommates, naturally, since we’re all stuck. I’ve made it to the last season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, a Netflix cartoon I started to watch mostly because I’ve been seeing people on Tumblr and Twitter talk about it for a while, and because I want to support obviously queer content.05 and you should all watch it too! I’m a pretty big fan. In addition, we’ve watched Uncut Gems, which has to be one of the most stressful movies I’ve ever seen, and the first episode of Twin Peaks, which I’ve already seen. We’re planning to watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a beautiful lesbian French film that I’ve actually already paid to see twice in the last month.06 before everything went to shit

Besides television, we’ve also dabbled in games, both of the video and traditional kind. I’ve been playing more Fire Emblem, slowly working my way through my third run through of the game. Two of my roommates and I started playing Divinity: Original Sin 2, and spent more time creating our characters than actually playing the game. I watched some of them play a board game about energy conglomerates, and I learned how to play Bananagrams and lost every round, while my girlfriend watched via FaceTime.

a photo of my roommates and i hanging out in our living room

a wholesome friday night

I think it’ll be like this for a while before we start to go stir-crazy, just playing board games and video calling and making food three times a day and trying to stay fit. Hopefully, with classes back in late March, things can start to feel a little more normal.


Classes

a screenshot of my daily schedule

looking pretty barren here

1.035: Mechanics of Materials, now on WebEx

This class, which in a normal semester is a Lab class, is probably going to be undergoing the biggest shift in curriculum out of all my classes. Because the students have dispersed and we can’t meet up for class anyway, we’re unable to do the lab component of the class, since it requires specialized machinery and instruction. And, with a week less in the semester, we also have to cut off a week’s worth of material and condense it. So, how’s it going to work?

Like I show in my last post, we normally have traditional lectures Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and a three hour lab on Tuesday afternoons. Our professor proposed something a bit atypical going forward: instead of just hosting the usual MWF lectures online, we (the students) would be put into groups and assigned with teaching the material to the rest of the class for a week. A few days before an assigned week, the group would get the lecture notes to review. On Monday, they would meet with the professor via WebEx07 everyone in the class can attend, if they want and get a tutorial lecture, in a sense. On Wednesday, the group would give the presentation to the rest of the class, and on Friday there would be a Q&A and Problem Solving session of sorts, coupled with an anonymous peer evaluation.

The idea is, if you can teach a subject, even just a small part of it, you learn it more fully.  Then, for the lab component, we would have scheduled WebEx seminars where our professor and TA would do a deep dive on their research. With a shortened semester and an entire component that has to be scrapped, it’s hard to fully capture the material we were supposed to learn, but it’s a start. Again, we haven’t actually started any of this, and won’t for two weeks, but this is the tentative plan. 

1.037: Soil Mechanics and Geotechnical Design, new location TBD

We haven’t quite figured this one out yet! The original plan was a midterm, final, a few PSets, and three group projects, and some of that has been nixed already. Our midterm, originally scheduled for this week, is no longer happening as far as I know, and we might have one less project to do. I presume that we will just move the lectures online and try to proceed as normal, minus a few things here and there. 

CMS.619: Gender and Media Studies, now on Slack and WebEx

This class already lends itself the most to being online, since half of our discussion takes place on a dedicated Slack channel, anyway. We’ll be meeting during scheduled class hours on WebEx, discussing the weekly readings and maybe watching things together. Work will presumably be the same, since there are just three assignments throughout the semester.

4.507: Introduction to Building Information Modeling, now on WebEx

We spent almost the entire three hour time period trying to figure this one out last Thursday. I still don’t think we’ve quite figured it out, but hey, there’s still two weeks to go. It turns out that Architecture classes that have presentations, and require 3D printing and model making do not lend themselves exactly well to online. The professor made a comment about coming back and possibly finishing our 3D models at the end of the semester, and I can only commend him for being much more optimistic than I am. Eventually, we got the entire present class to go on WebEx, and then painstakingly each person attempted to share their screen to ensure we could attempt some kind of presentation in two weeks.

a WebEx exchange between my professor and three students, just "Can you read me?" and three "Yes"

 

We’ll see how that one goes.

My last class, 1.073: Intro to Environmental Data Analysis, wrapped up last week, so that’s luckily not on my plate anymore.


All in all, life isn’t the worst it’s ever been. At least, there’s a part of me that is still looking forward to things turning a corner for the better, and interested in the changes going forward. It’s hard to remain positive when I’m constantly overwhelmed by unfortunate news in the world, but I’m keeping my head up. Sometimes a meme or a news article will slip through my Twitter filter, and I’ll try to keep scrolling instead of letting myself spiral down a news hole. I’m sleeping better. I’m trying.

  1. or an ambulance, or a police car, i don’t truly know back to text
  2. rip to all the beer tweets i’ll be missing back to text
  3. nearly every stranger i walk by in passing is talking about it back to text
  4. 7am on mondays back to text
  5. and you should all watch it too! back to text
  6. before everything went to shit back to text
  7. everyone in the class can attend, if they want back to text