May 8, 2020

WILK | The Unusual Business of Feelings and Finals

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It’s finals season. Sort of. Which means I’m very busy gnawing pen caps beyond recognition, trying to figure out where the hours I promised to dedicate productivity ran off to and how my caffeine-high lent itself to more characters tweeted than words typed into docs. Evidently, and despite the circumstances that occupy the greeting of every email I’ve written since March, it seems my end-of-semester business is proceeding as usual. I mean, it isn’t. At all, actually. But at least the familiar feeling of my fingers on my keyboard, frantically chasing a deadline and fending off failure, is here to offer some comfort within the abnormality. I’m sure it’s even more calming for my peers whose new testing environment is whichever McDonald’s parking spot receives the strongest wifi signal.

See, the circumstances haven’t wildly thrown off my examination period tendencies. My destructive habits of procrastinating and depriving myself of sleep just to end up wasting time are taking flight without the structure of campus life to keep them slightly in check. I get in a staring match with my laptop and watch the time go from 9:18 p.m. to 6:41 a.m. until exhaustion at not being able to work, type or think puts me to sleep. I can’t do anything. I can’t even write this column. I’m scraping around my head for thoughts like it’s an empty bowl of dip. So this has instead become a diary entry, an exercise of quarantine-induced self-reflection that would make for a nice Instagram story if I had some pretty stationery to inscribe it on. But I don’t. I just have opinions that threaten to pack up and leave if they get into one more argument with my feelings of the Futility of It All(™).

A sense of impotence is killing my article fuel, in defiance of the typical abundance of morbid inspiration. I could write about Corona, as I’ve done twice before, and like just about all the real journalists out there, in a world past the existence of a finals season, are doing. It’s still here to plague us and so are its collateral complications; new problems keep emerging and its injustices are still enduring. But where would I direct my outrage this time? At Cornell itself, and other colleges whose complete disregard for marginalized student groups has been made grossly obvious in how they’ve chosen (not to) address the effects of this virus? No, that’s been done. And done again. And again, and each time these brilliant voices define urgent needs and demand they be met, or at the very least, regarded as a real concern, it falls on disinterested ears. Ears that I know will be no more receptive to my voice and my opinion. So, just as quickly as I sense the pointlessness in pleading, the topic vanishes from my mind, and I look to Twitter to pitifully name my next distraction from my responsibilities. Business as usual, because schoolwork is definitely the only thing I’m desperately seeking a distraction from, under the circumstances.

And there are always distractions. Things just keep happening.

UFOs were confirmed by the Pentagon. Kim Jong Un died. Then Kim Jong Un rose from the dead because he wasn’t really dead at all. Drake released an unsurprisingly subpar album and I wasted my valuable staring-at-the-ceiling time listening to it. Elon Musk tanked his own company’s stock in a gesture that was so puzzlingly stupid I would say he did it purposely — you know, to be ironic — but I eventually have to confront the truth that the only thing that isn’t a joke to billionaires is their money. Then he and Grimes welcomed their child into the world, and they named it something bizarre, and the memes on Twitter were immediately really good; I almost laughed. A random Depop seller I ordered from suddenly went inactive and I felt an uncomfortable remorse for their hypothetical death. Beyonce hopped on a remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” and it didn’t disappoint. Liberals dropped the #MeToo movement because it didn’t suit support for Biden. A giant species of killer bees flew here from Japan, I guess? Alex Jones announced he is going to eat his neighbors. The first Monday in May came and went and I (pleasantly) didn’t witness as much mourning for the missed MET Gala as I expected to. A Native American health center requested COVID-19 supplies and only received body bags in response. People finally shut up about Tiger King. Two American mercenaries attempted and failed to execute a coup in Venezuela. Slope Day happened without happening. 25-year old Ahmuad Arbery was out for a jog when he was targeted by Gregory and Travis McMichael, who murdered him publicly, in broad daylight. That was actually in February, but his killers walked free until two hours ago when the video of his death went viral enough to force action from Georgia authorities. Some states opened back up. Thousands of people died while the rest looked on helplessly, or looked away to stay relatively careless or did a weird combination of the two that we’ve come to master because either way, things just keep happening.

I do what I can but things keep happening. I do nothing and they happen some more. I sleep all day and they happen with my eyes closed. I stay awake long enough to watch the sun rise twice and they happen, still. They happened when I raged against them, they happened when I let them drive me to tears, they happened when I laughed them off deliriously and they’re happening now that the only thing overwhelming me is an apathy that is disturbingly uncharacteristic. But my feelings would be useless right now anyway; they wouldn’t help with getting my papers done or carrying on with business, as usual.

I keep half-heartedly making to-do lists, as if I’ve ever been that kind of person, and then never get around to crossing anything off of them. Is my failure to adjust abnormal? Or is it normal in the face of this abnormality? Or is it abnormal because, by now, all this abnormality should be something I’m used to adjusting to? Before I allow myself to think too long about if an answer exists or even matters, I’m looking for distractions again.  However, this time, whether it be a coincidence or a product of hive mind or a result of the unknowable depth of the surveillance state, I’m faced with a kind of answer. @LauraHopeGill writes, “Young people, I want you to know there was a time 19 years ago when Americans were so sad when 3000 people died in one day we all cried for weeks.”

She continues, “It was on the news as a terrible tragedy.”

“Newspapers published profiles of the dead, and books came out about their last words and messages and emails.”

“We learned their names and even grew familiar with some families in the news.”

“Now we lose 3000 every day to COVID, and the focus is on returning to normal. You don’t have to return to normal. Nothing about this is normal.”

“Grief is the response when we can’t do anything to change the situation. We grieve what is being lost. It is a terrible feeling but appropriate right now.”

I hit the tweet’s heart with a finger that’s growing perpetually shaky to ‘like’ it, and turn my (in)attention back to finals season. Business as usual.

Alecia Wilk is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at awilk@cornellsun.com. Girl, Uninterrupted runs every other Friday this semester.