Bilge Nur Yilmaz is a senior political science and music double major from Turkey. She was studying abroad at the London School of Economics when COVID-19 started and cities around the world initiated lockdowns. She is studying on campus this semester. This is her story.
I’m terrified of breaking my habits now. I’ve grown so accustomed to controlling all my variables within a defined structure of space and time, and shelved spontaneity and risk for too long, that now the idea of an unannounced plan is imminently fatiguing. I know deep inside, that this is not the case though — I would enjoy these unanticipated instances, I guess it has to force me. Something’s happening and I don’t know what it is. Something’s happening and I don’t know what it is.
I had been in London, studying abroad at LSE, when the pandemic hit. With flights home (to Turkey) cancelled, my friends escaped, and my responsibilities virtualized to be trapped in a singular spatial dimension (i.e., my dorm room), I entered a long process managing a mostly solitary routine. A routinification of all, if I may. Some of these habits gracefully stuck with me: Making coffee every morning, exercising via livestreams or online videos, pre-bed yoga, sunrise walks, experimenting with the way I divide up my day. London was beautiful when spring came, and it felt as if I was witnessing history when I would take a walk across the Thames without another soul around. Unreal. I spent most of my days experimenting with small habits, and taking three-hour-long walks across the city to get my daily allowance of “outdoor exercise” in, under the national lockdown conditions. Here are two entries from my journal at a months interval:
March 24, 2020
There are only runners out. London is basically a ghost town now. I don’t know what to say. If we were left alone. If, only, we were, left alone. Now we’re alone — left to our own, devices. Such ugly vices. I don’t want to stare at my screen anymore. I don’t want to stare at my window anymore. Now we’re left with the writings and creations of all those who wept before us. It’s our only way of human touch now. It’s a cold aftermath. In the end, it’s what stays. They are gone, but the paper’s here. Maybe that’s particularly you/I should make something. Something relevant. Not temporal. Something permanent. Our great sadness (in our screens) is that we always carry the need to feel relevant (to the network)(to other humans) that we sacrifice the search for permanence (or, permanent relevance). All is quite bizarre. Curious for recovery. It’s funny how we/I don’t realize how many ‘real’ (non-virtual) interactions we make/we have to make during ONE dull day (even when we avoid to). Now that it’s gone — do you miss it? Will you miss it? Strange realizations. We need a new vocabulary.
April 25, 2020
What is a city without its people?
What is a person without its people?
I smelt a bunch of spring today,
and I had this strange — serenely paralyzed clarity.
Sometimes I feel like the city ‘flattens out’ certain experiences, and memory.
Mostly it’s either the sun or the breeze or the people that help capture small embossments — the tiny dimensional level-ups. Otherwise it’s extremely dull — compared to hometown moments of mulberries, home cooking, and wild waves. ‘Living.’ The clarity also results from hunger sometimes, or abstaining. Accepting abstention. Practicing patience. And cutting out distractions. In balance, though. Don’t let anything become dull — switch it up (so you can appreciate a thing. Listening to someone, watching someone talk without a pose — the sun hits a face, calm collected. I feel in tune. Why do I write these pages and pages? Because there’s something worth collection — some thing to take no physical space, to escape my brain and manifest itself in a worry of being forgotten and a haste to document.
Then came summer, finally flying home: changed and surrounded by my —also changed —acquaintances. It was just a week after I released my first single as Tendertwin, too, and even though very little was happening; a lot was happening, too. That’s the thing with virtuality, even when a lot is happening, it doesn’t feel like it. You don’t get the rewarding part of it. (Maybe in this case it would be collaborating with my music friends, rehearsing with my bandmates, playing gigs.)
What felt like a really long vacation kind of warped my whole perception of time. Summer helped me connect with my family on another level, maybe reinforced my perception of home. There was also a lovely seminar opportunity offered through Hurford Center Arts and Humanities remotely throughout this summer, and I became lucky enough to be a part of it. It was a student research project based around “Remote Possibilities” in the arts. Eight of us as students worked with Noemí Fernandez for six weeks. All of us had different proposals for areas of research, but my interest was in imagining new possibilities for performance, and investigating how this new “normal” of virtual interactions and transactions going to shape forms of art that require an immediate, present audience: performance arts in exhibition spaces, theater, and most personally, music. Since the performing arts industry got one of the hardest blows of the pandemic, and I see any performance-related artistic expression as inseparable from the audience-artist dynamic, I tried to investigate the new form of interaction and transaction between all involved actors.
By the time fall arrived, I made the decision to come back to avoid the messiness of a seven-hour time lag in geography lining up with assignments, to see the faces of the ones I have dearly missed (even if it’s just the half of their faces at a distance), and to re-salute the foliage of Haverford (it’s beautiful). My semester is bizarre, to be honest: time feels really stretched, but I also find myself extremely busy all the time. There’s no spatial division between where I exist, and where I work: my bed and my desk. I’m taking way more walks, and I’m cooking so often. I surrounded myself with all the instruments I could, so at times of crisis (and inspiration) I can jump outside of my desk bubble and frantically let out a musical cry. Our Chamber Singers rehearsals, my music library shifts are lovely reasons to actually exit my apartment, too. And who would’ve thought buying groceries would be an outrageous activity and not a chore?
I’m making conscious and intentional time for my friends now, because I can never ever take human connection for granted any more. It really helps with regaining the sense of normalcy: having a meal outside, appreciating breathing, making the most of the Haverford blankets, making the most of Haverford trees, validation of my emotions through finding parallels with others, reading their eyes way more than I did before, the sad sharedness of our limbos.
My New Normal is a series of first-person blog posts, sharing the experiences of the Haverford community in the time of COVID-19.