Covid and Community

Covid’s End: Just Connect

 

When the first order of quarantine came over the news, I, like many people, felt fear and anxiety. As the apprehension subsided,  I readied myself for a few more months of solitary life, yet despite of the burden of separation and loneliness, I experienced a rather sudden and strange phenomenon–an emergence from the initial darkness into a flickering radiance of possibilities; hope grew from this liberation from the drudgery of rush-hour traffic and wearing pants! My focus shifted to connecting–through finding an internal balance, most assuredly, but also to connecting with others. I was taken aback by my new desires to attend virtual social gatherings, family reunions, and photo critiques, where I made new friends, new “Connections”; This satisfaction from connecting drove me further: I created space in the front yard to allow connections with neighbors;  I began walking the neighborhood; I took online classes and completed an AA in photographic Arts. I forged connections with both myself and with other people not in spite of, but because of the pandemic. As the strangely satisfying benefits of this ostensibly oppressive situation dawned on me, I wondered about the universality of this positive outcome.  

I began my search for answers in earnest. I interviewed several families, from my neighborhood of Willow Glen, a small community in San Jose California. People were excited to share their stories, and like mine, they had benefited from our new normal.  In preparation for the session, I asked each family to prepare a sign to share their experiences. Their messages read of hope and new beginnings. The families embraced this opportunity to connect with community through their shared stories–both unique and similar at once. Could it be that the limitations of our exposure to vast numbers of people and ongoing pressures of public performance actually settled people into not just a new normal but an improved version of living? Did the dwindling list of demands free us to explore aspects of personal, familial, and social balance? Were we all valuing the idea of “Connection” spurred by the Covid virus? Here I was forced to consider the privilege of this liberal and liberated neighborhood. Many simply shifted to working from home, to spending more time with their families, to gardening and taking strolls in the evenings, but what of others who did not enjoy these same privileges–those essential workers who battled the threat of the virus every day? Had their new normal included the revaluing of connections? Were their “silver linings” different from mine? Would their signs tell a different story? 

According to studies by the CDC, NIH, and Harvard, people of poor socioeconomic status are more likely to contract the Coronavirus. Our social status, our race, and our access to resources all affect where and how we live; they affect our access to education, insurance, and health care. Overcrowded housing reduces the ability to social distance.  People from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often work jobs that require their attendance, and regularly take public transportation to work. All of this furthers the risk of exposure and expands their blanket of fear.

The data collected via these various studies measured the quantitative problems, but it doesn’t measure the qualitative changes that have come to fruition during this unique time. My goal is to appraise the psychological and emotional growth or decline of people of different socioeconomic status in different locations, to see if the narrative growth story reflects the quantitative data. But more importantly, to interrogate and document the resulting revaluation of “Connection” during the Covid pandemic.   

Of course, a project like this doesn’t come without challenges, and ironically, making connections with those people in other neighborhoods will likely be one that I will face in asking people to share their intimate stories of survival, hope, and perseverance.  I am fortunate in that I can access the connections I made while sheltering in place, as well as the connections I already had to find participants from different neighborhoods in Silicon Valley.  

Art reflects our lives, our struggles and our joys; it canonizes both our individual and shared histories. My ultimate goal for this project is to use my photography to both celebrate and document our experiences  and to design a tapestry of narratives woven from connections, the connections of our bubbles, our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities, and in these connections, we will find a reflection of ourselves, a reflection of our strength in gathering, a reflection of our survival through connections in the face of a world-wide challenge to our health and humanity.

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