June 15, 2020
Kenyon has announced plans to resume in-person instruction for fall semester. Read more here.
When Ohio shut down midway through Kenyon’s spring break, everything changed, including the syllabus for English 404: “Science Writing.” Professor of English David Lynn and Professor of Biology Bob Mauck asked their 13 students to write a story in 300 words about their own experiences with COVID-19. The caveat? Science should play no role in the story.
The writers then were asked to research the science behind the pandemic and return to their drafts, this time layering in depth and tension by adding scientific context.
Below are some excerpts from their stories, which are published in full here.
“Beethoven’s Diving Board,” by Fiona Ellsworth ’20
The piano is in the center of the house, and sitting down to play feels like jumping off a diving board: jittery and exposed, but the enclosing oblivion of the deep-end waiting just one leap away. All I want to do is dive into the irrelevancy of a long dead German and the expansive songs he heard in his head. Nothing, these days, is more attractive to me than the anachronism of Beethoven, his complete ignorance of pandemic or apocalypse.
“Blowing in the Wind” by Xiaoxuan Hu ’20
I call my twin sister and our mom. We never talk about “going back” because there is nothing to go back to. I have always known it, but it never became so tangible to me until people around me began leaving for their families. “At least I will be with my family,” they said. “Yes, that’s great,” I responded. Then I waited to call my family again. A small family, tight, strong, being held together for four years through a group chat named “Home Sweet Home,” but troubled by countless misinterpreted messages and untimely replies. During the nights when I wake up with the fading memory of my mom’s pancakes or the voice of my sister, I stare into the darkness and realize even darkness can look blurred.
“The Virus that Wears a Crown” by Salomé Shubitidze ’22
Paranoia creeps up on me as I wander aimlessly among the aisles. I don’t touch anything that I don’t have to. I wipe down my cart several times. I avoid people. In fact, everyone keeps their distance. A minimum of six feet to be exact. So that the air we inhale is not mixed with whatever they exhale and vice versa.
For that reason, no one stands in one place for too long. No one starts up a conversation. No one smiles. Instead everyone gives a curt nod when they pass each other. A gesture that says, I understand that everything is uncertain, I realize this is all crazy, I know we’ll all make it out okay. All packaged in one dip of the head.
“An Unusual(ly Long) Holiday,” by Toby McCabe ’21
Grateful to be studying molecular biology, I've developed muscle memory for glove removal; a skill handy in the lab and in the kitchen. My uncle earned this skill too, more familiar with the staining pattern of turkey blood than the protocols of a biological Gram-staining. He is the proud owner of the only set of hands in the family that can cook the gravy, repair the mixer, and balance the books. We desperately need his hands around the store.
I beseech him to be careful. As a longtime gym rat and smoker, he is the perfect recipe for disaster. He feels invincible, but his lungs prove otherwise. “The virus is a respiratory one. That means it’ll infect your lungs, making it harder to breathe. You already have a chronic cough.”
“I’ll stop cooking when I feel sick.”
At that point, it’ll be too late. The virus has an incubation period of two to 14 days, meaning it can lay dormant for up to two weeks before the emergence of symptoms. In that time, he could pour and cook over 4,000 pies. It’s hard to argue when hundreds of people return each day, eager to get their gloved hands on any warm food.
“134 ft²,” by Aleksandr Smirnov ’22
Somewhere at the bottom of me, I felt a pinching feeling of self-doubt. A week before, I was in the city filled with coffee shops and hopeless dreamers who refuse to walk — Los Angeles. I used the metro practically every day. There are now 6,360 cases there. My adventures, however, did not stop in the state of California, which is now in a state of lockdown. I later spent three days in an adult’s Disneyland, surrounded by exaggerated American capitalism — Las Vegas. People there are notorious for being too intoxicated to walk, let alone wash their hands. 1,608 cases.
“Katie,” by John Scandale ’20
COVID-19 arrived at our front door when Katie tested positive. Self-isolated and monitoring her own symptoms, she waits. Bothered by our uselessness at home and angry with the carelessness in government, we spend our days monitoring Katie from afar. This virus is debilitating the globe. And now it’s found my big sister.
There’s not much else to do besides drink fluids and rest. If this monster wants to become lethal, it will. Concerning symptoms like high fever and shortness of breath would rush her to the same hospital wing that she’s been working in for the past month. Only this time, she’s the patient.