As I was waiting for “Too Loud for Looseleaf” to start a few weeks ago, I reacquainted myself with the feeling of sitting in Pfleeger Hall’s uncomfy seats. I heard footsteps clacking by on the floors, heard chatter and laughter buzzing around the room. I saw a classmate walk into the auditorium and wave at me, and I waved back. They sat next to me. We talked, face-to-face. They told me, as a sophomore, this was the first time they’ve attended an event at Rowan University – in-person, that is.
The night started, and words flowed from the stage, directly to my bare ears. My eyes weren’t burning from watching a screen; they were fixed on the performer standing right in front of me – in-person.
These details are mundane – no-brainers – but they still felt very significant to me. I realized, a week into the Fall 2021 semester, that I’ve only spent a measly one and a half semesters actually on campus. The majority of my uni life has consisted of sitting at my desk and typing away on my keyboard, sitting on my bed and staring at my laptop screen, and taking walks throughout town for my sanity’s sake. Thrilling.
But I don’t mean to complain – I don’t need to remind anyone of all the things we’ve lost during this difficult year and a half.
Despite how much I wanted to, I wasn’t able to stop time, and September 1st, 2021 came. My first day back was the first time in ages I had to make the arduous trek all the way down to 260 Victoria. I had forgotten what it feels like to have a heavy backpack weighing down my shoulders, to walk past a sea of people with their faces in their phones. It was a throwback to another time – I almost forgot to put my mask on when I went inside.
In-person classes feel radically different. You don't have to worry about unmuting yourself, or clicking “raise hand,” or, for the mic-shy like me, typing your two measly cents into a chat box. You can just speak up. And when you share your opinion or your writing, you know you’re actually being heard this time – you’re not just talking to a grid of people with their cameras off, and the occasional face clearly typing away on another project, and one nodding professor. Classmates and professors are actually real, and sharing their time with you.
My professor and my classmates were masked. It was uncanny, seeing people I’d only ever seen on little pixelly boxes on Zoom move and look alive, hearing their voices ring through the acoustics of the room rather than my tinny speakers. Even more uncanny to me was the way I didn’t feel anxious about chatting with people at all anymore.
During quarantine, I was worried I’d regressed. Now that I’m out of my room and out in the real world, I can see, in practice, all the ways I’ve grown. I think all the time I spent inside my room and all the disappointment I experienced over the past year has made me less afraid to be myself.
I think many others are feeling the same way.
Come time to lead my first Writing Arts Club meeting, I was nervous as all get-out. I had big shoes to fill and I’d never even done anything like it before, all on top of our collective transition from Zoom to face-to-face interaction. But the attendees and fellow e-board members kept me in high spirits with their engagement, friendliness, and eagerness to make conversation
During quarantine, typing away at the screen alone was a means of survival. Now, I’m so thankful that it only takes up a few hours of my day, rather than all of it. Being around people just feels good.
This past Monday, the club’s grad advisor, Thomas LaPorte, suggested we host a Poetry Picnic. It was lovely, having other students by my side, and talking to them naturally. We shared laughs, as well as touching and vulnerable poems.
At first, I didn’t recognize one of the attendees, Logan, without his mask on, nor did he recognize me, which made us laugh. He seemed shy to share his writing, but, inspired by the words that directly passed through the breeze and into his bare ears, he stood up and shared a beautiful poem.
That afternoon was a perfect way to, once again, welcome each other back from the loneliness and disappointment we’ve all endured – to prove that happiness still exists after pain.