Keep a low-pressure, ordinary, daily diary during these days of quarantine-ing and social distancing. Your future self will be glad you did, and your descendants will probably be glad you did, too.
Keep a Quarantine Diary | 15
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This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is an idea.
Have you ever thought about how it is we know the history we know? It’s easy to document modern history so we don’t really think about it much, but the stuff we know about the world before any of us existed largely came from primary sources — more specifically, letters and journals.
Think of what we know about the founding of the United States because of the letters between John and Abigail Adams, or John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, or Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Or the journals from some of those people, like George Washington’s and Benjamin Franklin’s when they traveled, or Jefferson’s farm journals.
Or how about Anne Frank’s diary? We learned so much about what it was like to live in hiding as a Jew during WWII because of her writing. We also have access to lots of diaries from the Great Depression, especially from women who did their best to keep their homefronts running. And it’s these specific primary sources — journals from men and women living their lives during a tumultuous time in our history — that’s inspired this particular addition to the Good List.
And that’s to keep a quarantine diary right now. Yep, keep a regular log of what’s happening in your world, big and small. It might not feel interesting right now because at the moment, you’re just trying to keep your head about water. Maybe you’re working from home for the first time, or your suddenly homeschooling, and overall, everything in your life is different and maybe a bit harder right now — it’s a big deal to find chicken and eggs at the grocery store, you can barely leave your house, and going on a daily walk feels like a major event. It sounds monotonous, and maybe not worth journaling.
But it is. It is, because it’s different, it’s out of the ordinary, and Lord-willing, it’s temporary. Like the Great Depression, or WWII, or any other unique time in history, things aren’t the status quo right now, and we largely know what life was like in the day-to-day because of journals and letters. Not news articles or journalists’ accounts of the politics of the day (though those are important), but life for individuals, families, and everyday people — we know about life in weird times because of “normal” people’s accounts of them.
And it may not feel like anything special right now, but that’s been the case for most of human history — it doesn’t feel interesting when you’re in the thick of it, living it. This is all the more reason to keep a diary right now… because eventually you’ll look back on this wild time in our history, and you’ll want to remember when things were different.
And I’m not even talking about keeping a journal for future historians, so they can recount in textbooks and history books what it was like during the coronavirus pandemic (though that’s true, too). Keep a diary for the history records of your personal family, for your family tree. Because one day, you’ll be ancestors to your future generations. And they’ll be fascinated by what your life was like right now. Just like your own grandparents’ photos from WWII, or your parents’ love letters to each other, or yearbooks, or all the other ephemera of your family, add to that for your experience during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Now, what am I talking about, practically? Who has time to keep a lengthy, detailed diary of everything that’s happening, right? Well, not me, and I bet you don’t, either. So let’s get into the nuts of bolts of making this work, right after the break. I’ll be right back.
Alright, we’re back. So what do I mean about keeping a journal? I’m not talking about lengthy letters or pages and pages of your brilliant, poignant thoughts. In my experience, I journal to clarify what’s going on, what’s happening in my day, and to process my thoughts — not because I already know them. Most of the time, I open my journal and grab my pen not quite knowing what I’m going to say. I use my time to write in order to figure that stuff out. So, don’t not do this because you don’t know what to say. You probably won’t know what to say until you start.
And don’t not start because you don’t have time. You don’t need to do more than a few minutes at the most. In fact, right now I’m still using my One Line a Day journal that I’ve been using anyway — we’re talking 2-4 sentences about what’s going on with my time: the weirdness of being stuck at home, the kids and how they’re doing, the feeling of cabin fever, what it’s like to see empty shelves at the grocery store, my emotions from listening to the news, the unexpected blessings of life slowing down, even the weather. Whatever comes to mind, honestly. It’s not really important that you write something poignant — it’s more important the simple act of documenting your days.
I do think you’ll be glad if you did this in your own handwriting, but don’t let that stop you either. If it feels like too much work, or it’s too slow, it’s all good — open up a simple doc on your computer and just start documenting your days. Heck, you could even use an app on your phone to capture your thoughts as you have them. If you’re not prone to social media addiction, maybe even use Instagram and create a unique-to-you hashtag you can click on to look back on — document your days with photos + a few thoughts. Don’t worry if they’re not interesting to anyone else. (As for me, I won’t be doing that, because of my IG hangups — but hey, go forth if you don’t have them like me.)
And like I mentioned, just write down your thoughts, whatever they may be. But if you feel stuck, I’ve got a few ideas. I’ve actually assigned this idea to my high school English class — keep a quarantine diary — because I know they’ll be glad, too. I’m giving them a few daily prompts I thought up, and I also asked my subscribers in Books & Crannies if they had any ideas for questions — basically, what would they want to look back on and read about if they were going through this during their teen years? I collected some great ideas, so here are a few questions, if you need them:
- Do you feel like the people around you are overreacting, underreacting, or reacting appropriately?
- What’s the hardest thing about social distancing right now?
- What’s an unexpected positive thing in your life right now?
- Read one news article from today related to the coronavirus outbreak — what are your off-the-cuff thoughts from the article?
- Can you think of one way to serve someone in your life today? Sketch out a plan on how you can shift this from a good idea to an item on your to-do list.
- How does being told to stay home feel different from choosing to stay home?
- What do you think will be important to you about this time 5-10 years from now?
- What do you hope you’ll remember/forget/learn/change/stay the same/ etc?
- What would you do differently if you were in charge?
- I suppose I would have wanted to remember how I was feeling about the future, what my worries were, and how (and about what) my friends and I were communicating.
- What’s gained by technology when you’re isolated and what’s lost?
- How does it change your feelings on isolation when you think about it as something we do for others, instead of for your own sake?
- How about details on the room they’re in? I’m imagining a paragraph appreciating the space they’re stuck. Or what about writing a thing that takes 20 seconds (one hand wash) to say out loud?
- What sports would be in the “Quarantine Olympics”? (the Olympics have been postponed until 2021 and while I understand I am also SUH sad because I freaking adore the Olympics)
- What have you learned about yourself during this time?
- If COVID-19 was a fictional character, who would they be? (Dolores Umbridge is the only correct answer)
So, keep a low-pressure, ordinary, daily diary during these days of quarantine-ing and social distancing. Your future self will be glad you did, and your descendants will be very glad you did.
Hello Tsh, this is Shannon Hood and I’m calling you from Fort Worth, Texas. I am really excited about a project I’ve been working on for almost a year. I’ve been writing one letter every day for the year 2019 and it has been so life-changing and I would love to share more about that with your listeners. I am planning on approaching some podcasts about interviewing about this habit of letter writing and what it has done for me, but I haven’t yet. This is the first time I’ve done this which is nerve-wracking, but I’m just so excited about it and it has changed me in so many wonderful ways. I am more prone to notice things that are wonderful in my life. My eyes have been opened to people that are doing wonderful things and really even small things that impact me and so I take a moment to sit down and write them a short letter of gratitude or a thank you note. I’m really paying just paying more attention to ways that people connect and how I can connect with people that I love and the tangible handwritten letter is just one of the most wonderful ways that we can connect with the people that mean the most to us. Thanks for listening to this long message, and I would be so excited to talk more with you about this. Thanks. Have a great day. Bye.
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When I hang out online, I’m mostly on twitter @tsh and sometimes on IG @tshoxenreider. You can also find a transcript and the show notes of this episode, #15 at thegoodlistshow.com.
And I want to hear from you! I really do — now more than ever it’s important to take stock of the good things in your life, so consider this a personal invitation to do that. Tell me in just a couple minutes what one thing, work of art, idea, or habit is currently making your Good List — leave me a voicemail at (401) 684-GOOD, which goes directly to voicemail; or, simply record your voice and email the voice file, first stating your name and where you’re from, and we may feature your voice here on the show. For reminders on how to do this, go to thegoodlistshow.com.
Thanks so much to X for sharing her current idea that’s making her Good List. Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle for her help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider — thanks for listening to The Good List.
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