The essays included in The Way We Live Now are the end product of an advanced creative writing seminar taught at Appalachian State University in the Spring semester of 2020 by Susan Weinberg, an associate professor in the undergraduate creative writing program at ASU. After the coronavirus pandemic caused her senior students to be sent to their homes to finish the semester, she challenged them to write about the abrupt displacement from college life, capturing their experiences as the pandemic unfolded in their North Carolina communities. The project was named for the Susan Sontag short story of the same name about the early days of the AIDS crisis in New York City. This is the first of a three essay series.
March 25, 2020
It seems to me that there are two types of people living in our world at the moment: Those who are taking the coronavirus as seriously as they would the end of times and those who are waving it off like it’s the seasonal flu. I’m not saying which is right or wrong, I certainly don’t know, but I would figure it is somewhere in between.
For example, I have been getting groceries and basic necessities for my family since spring break began, trying not to overbuy, but still making sure my family has what it needs. While shopping I have experienced some crazy things: I witnessed an elderly man push a mother and her child out of the way for the last tray of hamburger meat. Another man told me this would all be over in a week and all those folks stockpiling toilet paper or rushing to scoop up the final container of disinfecting wipes would feel stupid.
My lifelong best friend, Jacob, called me and said, “My mom gave me $300 to get groceries. I got a hundred worth of food, fifty worth of vodka, and 150 worth of ammo. When the militias uprise, I’ll be ready.”
Sometimes I can’t believe we’ve been friends as long as we have.
Another friend, John, manages the dairy section of a Charlotte Food Lion. “I got a huge raise. This thing sucks for everyone else. Not for me.”
April 2, 2020
As I cooked dinner for my family for the fourth night in a row, I realized how blessed I truly am. Often when I write, whether it is fiction or nonfiction, I focus on stories that are, in a way, bad. They offer me more to work with, but as I enter the second week of quarantining with my family, I realize just how good my life is.
I am not one of the people worrying about food, or whether my parents and I will have a job in the future. Sure, our house is small and cramped, especially for three adults, and I’m struggling to keep up with my newly online college coursework, but for the first time in years, I am able to cook nice meals for my mom, my brother and myself, and we all sit around the dinner table and enjoy them together. I don’t know when I will ever have time to do this again. In the midst of all the shit hitting our world right now, I have to admit, it makes me realize how blessed I truly am.
I helped take food to one of my mom’s at-risk students this week.:“I haven’t eaten in two days, thank you so much,” he said.
This broke my heart, and made me realize how important public school is to helping those underfunded and underfed children in my hometown.
My 10-year-old brother said about the virus: “This is the greatest vacation ever!”
He must be the most spoiled child in the world.
April 9, 2020
I think I’ve watched about 15 different Mark Wahlberg films now, and I’m really not even sure why. I have ample time to do homework, yet I still get behind on it. I’ve found myself going almost crazy being locked in my house all day. My little brother watches The Simpsons all day in the living room, and again, I sit around watching that or watching movies on my laptop, getting behind on my schoolwork. I thought that school would be easier this way, being online, and it was at first. I was able to get so much done so quickly, and I was able to space out my assignments, not cram all my work into one weekend. But now I’ve gotten behind. Again.
It’s weird, I must admit, having my final semester online like this. At first, I was okay with it. Now, I feel ripped off, cheated almost, like my senior year was stolen from me. I haven’t been back to Boone since this pandemic began – I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m afraid that I will experience an influx of emotions; maybe I’m afraid that I will realize even more deeply what has been taken from me. Or maybe I’ll just want to stay. I don’t know.
My mother: “You boys are driving me insane.”
She works as a elementary school principal from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, worrying about her students, and then she comes home to listen to my little brother do his best Homer Simpson impression and me doing something between Johnny Drama from Entourage and a knock-off Spenser Confidential.
“I feel like I’m in jail,” a friend told me this week.
That is if jail were 10 hours of Call of Duty, four hours of Rick and Morty, and a seemingly endless amount of Doritos.
April 16, 2020
It’s odd, I have found myself writing more this week then I have in a while. In fact, just yesterday I typed for more than 3 hours and wrote around 30-odd pages. But that writing isn’t really helping me in school.
I have fallen behind in two of my five classes. It’s like I have all the inspiration in the world, but not to do my schoolwork. I have been reading voraciously since the pandemic started – as you can tell by my expanding vocabulary – but not what I need to read for my literature class, and I am writing- but not what I need to write for my Senior seminar course.
The truth is, I think I am starting to feel like I am already on summer vacation. That’s why, as I write this, I am going to begin an agenda, a to-do list, to finish my senior year strong.
Or I may just watch another Mark Wahlberg movie.
My stepmother: “Who orders sushi during a pandemic?”
My stepbrother: “Fish don’t have the coronavirus mom.”
April 23, 2020
On Monday I achieved nothing: I sat on my couch and watched 10 hours of Community. Normally, I wait until around 5 o’clock before I turn on Netflix because even when I tell myself it’s “just one episode,” it’s never just one episode. So, after wasting one full day watching TV, and the next day thinking about how I wasted a full day watching TV, I set out to have a hugely successful Wednesday. I got out an agenda I haven’t used since the fourth grade (I found it in a box in my closet next to something called Monopoly?) and I wrote down all the things I was going to get done.
In total, I jotted down eight items.
I completed three.
I also found time to watch a Francis Ford Coppola documentary I’ve watched at least five times in my life.
In conclusion, I have used the coronavirus as an excuse to revert back to the laziness that plagued me about 8 months ago.
Don’t worry, though, I’m sure tomorrow will be way more beneficial.
My little brother’s conclusion: “Maybe we’ll be in quarantine forever.”
And mine: Good luck to you and yours. Stay safe out there. If everyone does their part, then maybe we can get football back in the fall.
Franklin Bogle is a native of Gastonia, North Carolina, and a 2020 graduate of Appalachian State University. He will begin a graduate program in English at the University of South Alabama in the fall, where he was awarded the Stokes Center Scholarship for incoming fiction writers.