I try to see the good in most situations instead of lingering on the negatives, the things out of my control. And naturally, that’s what I tried to do as the COVID-19 situation escalated. When Duke announced an extended spring break, I saw that as an opportunity to continue to decompress and forget about school for another week.
When I learned that classes would be remote instead of in-person, I was grateful that I could wake up 15 minutes before my 8:30 a.m. class and be ready. No more of me sluggishly getting up to my 7 a.m. alarms and dreading an early commute.
I had time, ample amounts of it. With the time I would have spent getting ready, commuting, walking back and forth from classes, I didn’t really know what to do.
My natural tendency was to fill up my schedule. I was used to my Google calendar reminding me of things I needed to do, places I needed to be. So at first, I set myself on taking the free time I had and doing things. This could be anything. I started off cleaning my apartment multiple times a day. I went through my wardrobe and donated clothes that didn’t serve me anymore.
I needed to be doing something. Recently, on a solitary walk around my neighborhood, I reflected on my impulsive need to fill up my time. It came from the desire to want some semblance of my pre-quarantine life. This made sense.
But, I hadn’t really accepted or realized that my life was no longer normal.
Days filled with background noise from students flocking Fleishman Commons at Sanford were no longer the case. Bumping into classmates in hallways was a thing of the past. Most of my days were spent in quiet now, and I wanted to ignore it by filling up my time with things to do. Ways to be productive.
There’s an article with the title “The tyranny of the workday: how capitalism colonizes your free time”. The title implies capitalism’s omnipresence during a workday. But even in a life of quarantine, capitalism still makes its presence known – in my struggle to embrace stillness. In my guilt for being distracted easily and taking too long to churn out my papers.
The biggest challenge for me has been admitting that it’s okay to not be productive. To see empty time as a friend rather than something to stuff with another activity.
Quarantine has taught me that I can sit in the present, take more breaks, and still be fine. Quarantine has gifted me with an abundance of time, and I now see that in my normal life, there was actually plenty of it that I would push off. Admittedly, quarantine life isn’t normal, but I hope that when it all subsides, I’ll still be able embrace its lesson of slowing down.
Reg Ledesma is a first year MPP student. They graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2018. Before Duke, they lived in Washington DC where they worked on the Bernie Sanders campaign.