Boredom — modern man’s worst fear. Typically it’s avoided by countless hours of swiping left and right through cookie-cutter Tinder profiles in hopes of securing a post-quarantine hookup, scrolling through meme feeds on Instagram that no longer make you laugh, browsing your favorite subReddit in hopes of finding a new post since the last time you checked (two minutes ago) and sending pictures of your blank face to other expressionless victims of the same archaic curse. How else is a Gen Z-er supposed to pass his time when forced live like a Band on the Run?
Any way you look at it, quarantine presents a psychological and social quandary of the likes my generation has never had to deal with. Solitude. Are you kidding me? Isn’t that the strange, smelly, acne-covered thing that occupies the front row of high school Calculus classes and the ends of lunch tables, or that has moved into the stacks and actually talks to the librarians? However negatively or outrageously spending time alone might be viewed by Gen Z-ers, it is our responsibility as members of any community to learn to love the quarantine. We might not be as adversely affected by COVID-19, though long-term health impacts remain to be fully understood, but we do know the consequences of spreading it and are therefore morally culpable for any lives lost or ruined because we couldn’t endure a little solitude.
Spending 14 days alone is not an easy doing, especially for a 17 or 18-year-old who had no prom, no graduation, who hasn’t been leaving the house much for over five months and who is now suddenly tossed into college life. It’s easy to become depressed and anxious and frustrated at why I can’t just go hang out and get dinner with some of my suitemates, get drunk and maybe smoke a little pot. Isn’t college the time for me to meet new people and be with friends who I only get to spend four short years with? Maybe not so much anymore. I keep hearing the tacit expression “new normal” being thrown around like this virtual way of life is going to stick. It might have stuck if humans, particularly Americans, weren’t such entitled creatures of habit. By Independence Day this past summer “new normal” was out the window, as thousands of people gathered on beaches across the country to celebrate their God given ignorance. The real “new normal” is ignoring the recommendations of scientists and doctors despite all common sense to continue living the way we know and are comfortable with. Well, that’s just not good enough. Us Gen Z-ers have been raised in the Data Age. We know how to access and interpret information more efficiently than any generation before us. We should know better than anyone the risks of spreading COVID-19 by going out to bars and barbecues. That’s why it’s on us to overcome the psychological and social challenges of an antisocial way of life. How can we use this time alone to heal our neurotic brains and nourish our sedentary bodies?
Many colleges and universities across the country are taking the pandemic very seriously. Quarantining is expected if a student tests positive for COVID-19, or, like in New York, students are required to quarantine upon entry of the state if coming from “hot” states. There are strict guidelines about where you can’t go, how you must live, and how you can get food. So, this is how I quarantined to still follow the rules, while alleviating the inevitable boredom of a four-walled isolation and Grubhub delivery: I went camping (sort-of).
My journey started from Minneapolis, Minn., heading straight east across Wisconsin, and then north through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I stopped along the north shore of Lake Michigan to enjoy some dried figs and packed tuna for lunch, indulging my desire for a short swim and quasi bath in the clear rolling waters of Lake Michigan. Camp on the first night was made in Huron National Forest. The stars were up and so were the bugs, so dinner was a lukewarm pouch of Indian curried chickpeas and a protein bar. I hadn’t eaten in over seven hours, so my brain confused a full stomach for a upset one and I was almost sick. Thank God for the prompt knock of exhaustion because I was out and up again before I knew it — on the road to New York State.
In New York, I was graciously hosted by my professor and major advisor to make camp at a field she owns about an hour north of Cornell. It’s right on a small lake made by the Army Corps of Engineers back in the fifties. Dead trees still stand from where forest became lake overnight. It was among these trees that I caught over a dozen largemouth bass, roughly two and a half to three pounds (though there are much, much bigger ones about). It was a few of these bass who gave up their lives to feed me. I understand how this might sound like sport fishing heresy to many fishermen, and normally I would agree. Largies are much more of a thrill to catch than to eat. Just know that I let the largest and the smallest ones go, that this lake is a very healthy and underfished ecosystem and that I only took what I would eat. Catching to kill is a most burdensome way to fish, but cooked whole over a campfire and served with sautéed cherry tomatoes and onions over pasta is a delightful change of pace from my typical rations of pasta with sardines, rice and lentils and packed tuna.
I made it four days, albeit not a very impressive feat, before being forced into my professor’s bunkhouse cabin to escape thunderous rains and tree-felling straight winds. From this bunkhouse I spent my days cooking, reading, journaling and hiking and fishing — weather permitting. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were cooked atop a wood fire stove. The gradual heating forced patience upon me, but made the meal feel well deserved. Breakfast was always the same — oats and coffee. Lunch was either a PB&J or madras lentils over rice, sometimes both if I was feeling it. But dinner is where I really made use of my cast iron. My professor was too kind and though she wasn’t around, she told me to take from her pantry and fridge what I needed to cook. Pasta with blush vodka sauce and a side of zucchini sautéed in olive oil with garlic and lemon juice. Bass steamed with garlic, served with shell pasta covered in ratatouille mash and ice-cold pinot grigio. Corn on the cob and candied bananas were welcomed breaks to the savory. Heaven on Earth if there ever was to be one.
Overall, I got the chance to spend a lot of time alone, enjoying the few long hours of sunlight we have left up in the northern hemisphere and reflecting on how to maintain my mental health this academic semester. This will be a perpetual labor, one working on the timescale of trees. I realized the work of maintaining my mental relied on my outlook on the pandemic, and my role as a university student in preventing its spread and encouraging my peers to do the same. Freedom from self, where self is consciousness and consciousness is despondency, is not worrying about consequences onto oneself, but only of consequences onto that which one loves. I love my community. Do you?
Benjamin Velani is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He currently serves as the dining editor on The Sun’s editorial board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.