*Note – Full versions of each contributor’s July reflection can be found by clicking their full name at the bottom of this post or from the table on the project overview page.
Reflection Prompt 1:
How did you feel today? (What thoughts are on your mind on this last day of July and what caused you to feel that way?)
Today was a good way to finish one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in my entire life. Not only do I have a seemingly endless list of work stuff, but my dad also had surgery yesterday morning, my brother moved to California earlier this week, I’m in the process of moving into the city, and there was a visitation for a girl I went to high school with that took her own life last week. But, despite all the chaos the week has ended on a positive, albeit a little guilty, but definitely positive note.
My friend Tanya is getting married in the time of Covid and despite the rules and social distancing, she’s still finding ways to celebrate her love with friends and family. The wedding is technically tomorrow, but tonight there was a pre-wedding dinner party out in Naperville. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a wedding or any social gathering at this time, so you won’t be shocked when I arrived at the house to find a large tent and a fairly big group of people already gathered outside. I was already hesitant to go to the wedding, but I decided that I should still be able to find ways to spend time with loved ones and celebrate all our milestones.
It made me happy to be around people and share in all the positive energy of the event, but I was definitely uncomfortable seeing people without masks on at all times and doing things like dancing in close quarters that we’ve been told to avoid for the last 5 months. I feel like I’ve been really responsible thus far and hope that choosing to go to this wedding isn’t a bad decision. Overall, this weekend is about change and celebrating our lives and I think the happiness of the moment will outweigh the Covid guilt or potential risk of virus spread.
WB [DC] –
I can’t believe today was the last day of July, and that we’re going into August. I feel weirdly okay about it, and I feel weirdly okay about today, given that this week was oddly all over the place. People weren’t kidding when they said breakups are a nonlinear roller coaster. Last weekend I was feeling pretty lonely and restless, but today all I am looking forward to is signing off work, biking to the Navy Yards, and journaling a bit. And being alone. I want to bask in this feeling of being solitary for a bit. What has helped me get through the past several days has been reconnecting with a high school friend. We bonded over kitchen appliances, which is hilarious. I notice we talk the same to each other even though we haven’t seen each other in five years, even though I rejected his prom proposal eight years ago. It’s bringing back feelings of nostalgia, and the tiniest twinges of regret, too. I need to journal about it, I think it will help parse out my feelings a bit.
So I probably won’t be even eating outside for a while because the patio tables at the Navy Yards restaurants definitely aren’t close to six feet apart. Though that’s just an addendum at the back of my head because I’ve just cried inside Wise Guys, while waiting for my pizza, after checking my phone and getting a Text. My first tear-stained thought was, how dare he? How dare he ruin my fantastic day. I had a lovely bike ride, I’ve just bought popcorn at Harris Teeter, waiting for pizza, planning on watching a movie when I get back home. Instead, everyone inside this Wise Guys can see my eyes tearing up, and I’m glad I’m wearing this mask. I pick up the pizza, walk outside, and after taking a big breath, attach it to my bike. How dare he send that. I should have blocked his number months ago. Why didn’t I? I know the answer, I just don’t want to admit it to myself. I eat the pizza, but I don’t make the popcorn. I don’t watch the movie.
N [Chicago] – Today has been an incredibly peaceful day. One of those days where you aren’t necessarily productive, but you are so keyed into the present moment and you go to bed feeling so satisfied.
My morning was full of leisure – I woke up on my couch with Paul cuddled up with me, while I played around on my computer. I read some of the book that I’m working through now, “Deep Work,” and caught up on my emails. After some more laying around, I finally got up and got ready to go to my parent’s house.
My relationship with my parents felt tense at times while I was living at home, but since moving out, our relationship is better and I even make a point of visiting my parents at least every two weeks. Usually when I go home, I bring my Nintendo Switch home with me so we can all play Animal Crossing together – we always visit each other’s islands and give each other presents. I also have the chance to play with my parent’s dogs and spend time in our backyard too.
After visiting my parents, I headed over to my boyfriend’s condo. Although he was working, I love spending time at his place by myself – he has a nice kitchen that I love to cook in and a balcony that I love to read on, so it was the perfect way to spend my evening, before passing out on his couch watching an awful teen drama (Pretty Little Liars lol).
Nowhere near the productive day that I am usually pushing myself towards, but a blissful day, nonetheless.
Paige [Korea] – Today I felt both lazy and accomplished?
That in itself of course is contradictory but it sums up the laziness of a Friday after the final grading of exams has ended and the numbers have been punched into the system. I spent this past week ripping through grading over 200 exam papers (even for classes I myself didn’t teach) and so the laziness and lackadaisical nature of the last few desk-warming (ironic in this hot ass monsoon weather) feels oddly deserved. So in this desk-warming time, I take my time with my breakfast and coffee and binge watch any interesting videos that pop up on my Youtube channel.
I ended up getting tagged in a few grainy recordings of high school plays and having a good laugh at both my cringey moments and my genuinely funny moments within snippets of my ragtag high school “stage” that was just risers set up in a gym (where we also ate lunch every day and sometimes had church – yep, a gymachurchacafetorium is sometimes what we would call it).
I have started making reaction videos to Kpop content in the last month as well so my “productivity” for the early part of the afternoon was editing a video and a half for that purpose, but that was after being treated to lunch off-campus (spicy stir-fried octopus – 낙지볶음, followed by a stop at a nearby coffeeshop to round out the meal) by the eldest English department teacher. You see that lazy-productive balance striking there again. I had an errand to run in Hongdae to reserve a time for a laser tag match for a friend’s surprise birthday outing, and yes, I took the nearly 50 minute trek over to Hongdae on the bus because I would rather do it in person.
While I put myself out of my way, I made it worth my while, going to a vintage/secondhand dress sale and scoring big on some really cute pieces, running to HomePlus for goods I can’t get at a good price near my house (namely, better pasta than just straight spaghetti noodles and deodorant), and went to a cupholder event for a Kpop idol’s birthday. This impromptu run did make me feel productive, and I didn’t take any desk naps or naps at home today either. Okay, I’m rambling, but I think that just reinforces the nature of this odd, lazy and yet still quite active day.
Gigi [NYC] – Woke up with two pups laying on top of my body, one of which decided to stand directly on my bladder and then on my hair in the middle of the night; needless to say, I did not sleep well.
But it’s alright, this morning I have my visa appointment for Norway! I have been preparing (and re-preparing) the documents for days, now I can only hope I did them all correctly. I got ready with coffee, a nice outfit and makeup (wowow haven’t worn makeup in months), took the pups out for a quick pee, then headed down to Times Square.
The office was tucked in between the dark theaters, the area unnervingly deserted. The interview/document hand-off went very well, I believe, everyone working there couldn’t have been nicer and I was out of there in 15 minutes! I then had a day filled with running back and forth between pups, and ended the day with a little birthday celebration for my sister’s fiancé. We had a beautiful meal and lots of laughs.
K [Korea] – When I realized it was the end of July, and it seemed the whole month had slipped out of my hands, I was almost deftly reminded of the episode “Lost July” from Trigun. In this part of the narrative, we learn that the main character has been hired as a bodyguard by someone attempting to fix a power plant, but unbeknownst to us she was actually a victim of a city named ‘July’ being wiped off the map by our hero. He has no memory of the incident, but it is why he is constantly pursued for a bounty.
I was informed that my program only had 2 graduate students enrolling in the Autumn semester. Thus, it would be insufficient to make courses, they told us to pursue studies at the main Seoul campus instead of our usual Wonju campus. This sudden shift came on the heels of having invested tons of time and emotional energy (plus help requested from friends) to research apartments, transportation, living stipends, etc. in Wonju and to be frank, Seoul is far more expensive with far more competition. I’ve ended up having to forgo very nice private full apartments at reasonable cost to spending just under half my living stipend on a sharehouse.
While I shouldn’t complain too much (my sharehouse seems nice enough, is seven minutes from campus, allows me to interact with many opportunities) the lack of awareness my university had in delivering any of this information and the subsequent disrespect I felt as a student was palpable. Graduate students, in my opinion, get the short end of the stick a lot, but they shouldn’t be treated LIKE THIS.
Overall, I feel tired. I feel like the month dragged me slowly, but surely, over a bumpy surface. No particular movement was violent or noticeable, but I feel sore and worn out. Coupled with higher expectations and the looming uncertainty of enrolling in graduate school, I find a low, buzzing stress draining me of energy. I’d like to say that sounds like whining, but in the era of COVID some lost strength can momentarily trigger some worry. I’m working on my posture, being more conscious of how I’m holding tension, and I’m having some short-term success. Running has been quite hard these last few weeks, but not the actual action, just actually getting out and doing it.
I’ve got the end of an entire year’s worth of Korean courses on the 21st of August and the TOPIK exam two days later. Many friends who were locked in their home countries are returning soon to start the next semester. In theory I can enroll in the right classes, get a rhythm and system down, and fully be in my element as I finally begin studying topics I’m passionate about as a graduate student. The future is full of possibilities, I just have just drudge through this swamp first, and hope I’ve enough awareness of mind to fully appreciate the end of this current journey and enjoy the time I have remaining with the people I’ve come to love through this shared experience.
E [Korea] – Not to brag, but today was ~kind of~ a big day.
John and I spent the night at our new apartment (sans everything) and headed up early in the morning to his dad’s place to finish the desk we were building for me. We decided to make a cafe-style table (also apparently called a sofa table), which is just a really long, fairly thin table that would fit nicely in front of our big central window. This project has actually been a lot of fun– we found an old ratty piece of wood on the side of the road and stripped it, refinished it, and today, we finally put the legs on and built a hanging shelf underneath the tabletop where I could store books, writing utensils, etc. This was one of our last things to bring to the new apartment. The truly last thing was our cat, Finn, who (understandably) doesn’t like car rides.
We honestly thought everything would be pretty much okay. He’d survived a 9 hour trip from Illinois to Pennsylvania, always did okay compared to the other cats on the way to the vet (cat #1 peed herself in terror on the way home from the vet and cat #2 didn’t even make it– though she left her mark on John in the form of several long gashes). ‘Everything will be fine,’ we thought. ‘It’s only a forty minute trip.’
Laughing and gagging, I told John and Finn continued to meow, perhaps even more desperately now. I felt bad for laughing at him, but it was just so pitiful. He had turned around to face his poop and was trying to poke his head through the hole of the cat carrier but I thought he had sniffed his poop and I kept gently nudging it back in.
Less than a minute later, the smell became too much and we pulled over on the side of the road (luckily we’d decided to take back roads instead of the highway) and John ran around to the passenger side window. I handed him out a big bunch of napkins that we’d collected from various fast food outings, and he bravely reached his hand into the carrier and removed the poop. ‘It’s not soft-serve, at least,’ he said as he hurled napkins full of (apparently quite healthy) poop into the forest.
Reflection Prompt 2:
How would you frame your day (answer to the first question) to a complete stranger?
NS [Chicago] – Picture this, a tent in the middle of a big suburban backyard. The grass is lush green, the kind that comes with summer rainstorms and a dedicated family watering effort. A big white tent stands tall next to a wooden deck that winds down to ground level from the house’s second floor. The wooden stairs leading up to the deck are decorated with pretty lights for the pre-wedding dinner. Some people are wearing masks and some are walking around with big smiles clearly visible, not something you see often in public in the time of Covid.
About ⅔ of the guests are wedding colorful Indian clothing and I’m reminded of how unique this wedding experience will be for me. I feel excited to see the bride and her friends and family and celebrate her blossoming future and remember all the fun times we had back in college. After a few glasses of sangria, I’m ready to dance to the Punjabi music – I don’t understand the lyrics, but the music has a reliable rhythm and everyone finds it easy to dance.
I’m not sure how everyone feels individually, but I find it hard to not feel irresponsible being surrounded by so many people I don’t know. I wear a mask for much of the night, but I do take it off to eat and drink and remember what it’s like to not live away from other people. The summer comes and goes and the white tent will be gone by the end of the week, but the memories of this night will stand out amidst the year of craziness.
WB [DC] – You know that Tyler the Creator meme? The one where the caption is, “So that was a fucking lie”?
That’s how I feel about the situation right now, including about myself. Maybe I was just lying to myself. I thought it was over it and I had successfully walked away. But clearly, that’s not the case.
Can you tell me why? Why is this so hard, even though I didn’t even feel the beginning stirrings of love, not even close? I feel conflicted, torn, guilty, angry. Tell me how I should feel and what I should do.
N [Chicago] – I had today off, so I slept in and had a pretty lazy morning. Once I got up, I went to go visit my parents for a bit – I saw my dogs and played Animal Crossing with my parents, which was a ton of fun! Afterwards, I went to my boyfriend’s condo and hung out there while he was at work. On paper it wasn’t a productive day, but I had the opportunity to spend it doing things that I really enjoy.
Paige [Korea] – Today was good! I was like, both lazy and productive, if that makes sense? I did a lot of little things I wanted and needed to do but nothing huge and life changing, but I had a yummy lunch and did some hobby stuff and got cute dresses and that makes for a good day overall!
Gigi [NYC] – I had my visa interview today! I think it went well? Then I had basically a normal day of walking pups except I’m also sitting for two frenchies so I needed to keep returning to them to make sure they were alright. It was my sister’s fiancé’s birthday today as well, so we had a nice celebration for him too! I got him a really dumb card with bacon on it and he got a good laugh out of it. Glad I made him smile.
K [Korea] – It’s the end of July and where really has the seventh month gone?
I spent the entire semester in online Korean courses with only about 3 or 4 in-person classes. They were always nice, but the online aspect has been challenging. I am reviewing classes to take, studying about religion in Korean, and meeting a Fulbright friend who is visiting Korea during the summer break from Law School.
That last bit is actually fun and, all things considered, a blessing despite the rain. It’s been a welcome reprieve from the myriad headlines and negativity surrounding me lately and I’m hoping to channel that energy forward into the next month.
My cat shit himself 15 minutes into a forty minute car ride and we literally chucked it into the woods.
(As told by my instagram stories:) [Finn] pooped himself so we had to stop and clean him up. It’s been a rough one.
He pooped and has stopped meowing. Seems like that helped. Also he pooped 15 minutes into a 40 minute car ride, thank god we’re not going far.)
Reflection Prompt 3:
When do you feel most social and comfortable around others? Covid has taken away opportunities to be around the people we love, but what are some qualities about another person (that you know or don’t know) or situations that make you feel like you can be yourself?
NS [Chicago] – I’ve never struggled to be myself around others over the long term, but sometimes I do find it hard to be comfortable with someone the first time I meet them. It depends on the vibe in the room and the energy I’m able to muster up.
The one thing that always helps me feel comfortable is something extremely intangible. Certain people seem to have an inner light inside them that shines through in their personality, and this is something I’ve always latched onto. The light is better expressed as a capacity to make genuine connections with others and channel their energy into a conversation or a relationship.
WB [DC] – This question is really interesting because I’ve been thinking about this recently. My social skills vary widely depending on the social context.
When I used to volunteer at the hostel in Boston, I felt like the Hospitality Queen. It was so easy to start conversations with, “Where are you from?” and connecting over shared travel experiences, sharing tips about what to see in Boston, our lingo loosened over a glass or two of wine or beer.
When I’m with my close friends, I am a Social Butterfly. Everything I say seems interesting or funny to them, and our senses of humor match up so well. It’s these moments that make me kind of confused when I have weird or awkward interactions with other people that I don’t jive as well with.
When I meet people initially, it’s hard to gauge how personal and vulnerable I should be with them. It’s a risk, right? If they do understand your personality, the interaction goes swimmingly, or even wonderfully. If you are on different planes, it gets awkward very quickly. This has happened to me more frequently in work settings than anything, or happy hour socials where you go in knowing no one. I still get nervous going to them, even though I’ve traveled around the world and made friends with people in less constructed contexts, even. I put on A Face and put myself out there, and try to brush off all the awkwardness. I try not to let it get to me because I know that the other person is trying too, and it might not always be successful.
I think I have been easier on myself in recent years in forgiving myself when situations turn uncomfortable.
N [Chicago] – I generally would call myself a chameleon – someone who is generally able to blend in any situation – but I feel that I am best able to be myself in smaller groups and with people who are also able to “show” different qualities depending on what the situation calls for.
For example, people who are able to be goofy and make fun of themselves, but are also able to retain the ability to take meaningful conversations seriously. I find that I bring and show different pieces of myself, depending on who I am around and my own energy level, and I think it is important that I am around people who are also dynamic in that respect as well.
Paige [Korea] – I’m a very outgoing person, so I feel like there aren’t many situations where I feel necessarily uncomfortable, but I think I feel really comfortable when I’m doing improv comedy, especially after a show. I always have liked being onstage, and I felt that sort of social butterfly buzz of comfort and pride doing plays in high school when people would come out and tell us how well we did, but I don’t think I realized the difference in feeling until I got into improv in college.
You memorize scripts and songs and feelings and choreography for plays, which is all amazing and impressive, but in improv, everything is made up, and it’s not easy by any stretch to begin with. But in that freedom you really get to show off your quick wit, your ability to build stories, to become other people at the drop of a hat with no plan, to acknowledge fucking up and almost just make it part of the joke and then move on, and to really charm an audience.
I have that part of me that loves to shine in the spotlight, and I particularly like making people laugh, and when the audience first comes into the improv shows, they see us just intermingling so the performers are reachable and approachable. Then we start the show and run out on the stage, and while we are in stage mode, they see the same person they saw take their money and give them a hand stamp and joke with them and tell them to grab beer, and now you see that person improvising and being witty and really living in their element, not caring if they look silly or if they make a joke that isn’t that funny because they know it too.
You as the performer sorta wrap the audience around your finger (not in a manipulative way) and then after the show, you feel powerful, confident, social, and like you have proven yourself. I feel I can really shine there in making fun banter with performers or friends I already know but also that I feel confident enough to chat with an audience member who I have never seen before. Again, rambling, but I love that feeling of having both confidence and comfort – I’m a social butterfly in almost all cases but this is the situation where I feel the conditions are most ideal for me to feel like the best and most radiant version of myself.
Gigi [NYC] – I feel the most social and comfortable around others when I know them really well (which is rarely the case) or there is a larger group with a splash of alcohol involved. I tend to get mild social anxiety pretty regularly, so I try to calm myself down by making someone laugh and making sure I am not the center of attention.
One of the first things another person can do to put me at ease is to curse, as odd as that sounds. That tells me they are feeling casual, not trying to ‘put on’, so to speak, and are trying to create a comfortable space. Beyond that, if a person is outwardly very goofy and funny, that really makes me relax. I am naturally a very weird and (seriously) goofy person myself, so when I see that come out of others, it is clear it’s alright for me to be me.
K [Korea] – I feel I can most be myself when others are tolerant of different lifestyles and expressions of identity.
Though I am lukewarm tea when it comes to diversity of any kind, my life is full of people I love and cherish who are LGBTQ+ and a key tenant of my personality is that I love when my friends interact and appreciate each other. I love making friends, sharing things, and helping others. If I find myself in a situation where I’m tempering someone’s prejudiced expressions or thoughts or constantly having to feel out exactly where they stand on bigotry, I cannot enjoy that situation and I feel like my energy is drained much more quickly.
Since all our prejudices lie on a spectrum, I realize this isn’t an exact expression, more of a feeling, but I think most will understand that many people in our lives are actively anti-prejudiced or working towards that and recognize the importance of not being silent/supporting the status quo, whereas others haven’t spent much time considering other’s perspective and forcing themselves into situation where they have to her oppressed people’s voices.
This seems a bit off topic, but I suppose I’ve approached this question from the other end; I’m a very easy person to get along with, I’ve coached hundreds of athletes, served as program coordinators, and generally hear that I am abnormally social on several occasions.
I am only limited in being myself when others harbor hate in their hearts.
E [Korea] – Recently, it’s hard to feel like being social at all.
Covid has made me so cautious around other people and I feel like I owe it to myself and to others to maintain that level of caution until things are truly better. It’s not that I don’t want to be social, it’s that being socially responsible means more to me than my own desire to have some human contact. And honestly, I don’t want to think about what this question would be like outside of the constraints of Covid. So many people act like things are going to go back to the way they were, that we’ll be able to interact with others in the same way that we always did, but it’s just not true. I’m trying to learn how to live in this new society that we’ve created through irresponsibility and wishful-thinking and answering the question from a pre-Covid perspective just doesn’t seem to do me much good.
In a post-Covid perspective, it’s actually nice to get to be able to decide when I want to be social. There were many situations in the past where I felt a need to be social and ended up regretting pushing myself into a situation that wasn’t right for me. Now, I really get to be picky about easing back into being social, and more importantly for me, easing back into American culture. After I came back from Korea, I was literally quarantined from March until June. I think I went grocery shopping two times. Not much room to readjust to American culture, but also kind of a nice, slow transition. My life was put on hold during that time (as I’m sure many other people’s were), but it also meant that I had an excuse to take my time getting used to being back here).
I guess I have a succinct answer that works in both pre- and post-Covid life: I feel most comfortable in social situations where I have the power to decide if I want to engage or disengage. Somewhere that gives me the opportunity to be myself (whether that means staying, or going).