Our most recent diary day marked a transitional moment, or a moment outside the regular flow of daily life, for many of our diarists. Ball State’s semester was over, so our writers who work for the university were transitioning to (but had not quite found) their summer rhythms. Parents were waiting for their kids’ school years to end. The weather was changeable, and was warming up; previous weeks saw flashes of summery warmth; the beginning of the week was cold and damp. Diary day—Friday, May 12—was something close to a perfect spring day, chilly in the morning and 74 degrees in the late afternoon. Almost half of our diarists were out of town, some recreating at length, others working remotely, visiting family, or helping out neighbors.
We’ll be writing about some of these commonalities in the next few weeks. But for now, here is a quick look at some other themes in the May 12 diaries.
Pandemic? What pandemic?
The Covid-19 pandemic is noteworthy for its absence here, with only four passing references among the fourteen writers who submitted diaries for May 12. And the mentions it does receive, in contrasting ways, underscore the virus’s out-of-sight/almost-out-of-mind status at the moment.
Diarist C46, still masking and being careful, laments the way that most of her contemporaries, even in crowded or tight interior spaces, seem to have moved on from the pandemic, despite the fact that it continues to kill more than 100 Americans per day.
Diarist A01 notes that May 12 was the first diary day since the pandemic on which he worked from home—prompting reflections on what was the same (a casual attitude towards grooming) and what different (the ability to work in a coffee shop, to be out in public “without the enervating fear of other people”).
Diarist F56, without using the p-word, expresses gratitude for being able to go out and buy flowers and other “simple pleasures like this that we missed in 2020.” And Diarist A34, making his first submission in more than three years, starts by getting us caught up on his life, in the course of which he recounts leaving a job because he declined to get the Covid-19 vaccination.
But perhaps the silence of the rest of the diarists speaks more loudly than these few direct references. The pandemic is receding somewhat in our collective consciousness—or at least in what we choose to record about it.
Speaking of silence
The history of the Everyday Life in Middletown archive closely parallels the rising sense of civic and political crisis that has marked the last few years. EDLM was launched as a BSU immersive learning class in January 2016, when Donald Trump was but one (very loud) voice among a host of contenders for the GOP nomination. But the bulk of the archive documents the years of the Trump presidency and its aftermath, the pandemic and the post-George Floyd uprisings of the summer of 2020, and the continuing, constantly transforming sense that the American political system is under historic stress.
That makes it all the more striking that there is just one explicit reference to politics, and no references to news of the day in the May 12 diaries. None!
We’ll have more to say on this in a future blog post.
Grieving—loved ones and relationships
This group of diaries contains a compelling, real-time profile of a marriage in the midst of a trial separation and an account of a marriage that has ended, a new relationship having grown in its stead. Meanwhile Diarist A33, whose recent submissions have been narrating his process of grieving the loss of his husband, continues to document the pain of loss and the need to be “responsible for my own healing” in the face of social pressure to move on. And Diarist F56 marks a new stage in her journey of mourning for her mother, where “deep sadness is beginning to take a back seat to gratitude.”
While some of our May 12 cohort was engaged in active leisure activities, others had work on their hands, or on their minds, or both. In a theme that is not new to the archive, a number of our writers were grappling with the question of productivity: asking themselves whether they were doing enough, or whether it was OK not to be doing enough, on this day. Diarist A01 recounts a mid-afternoon bout of “the kind of self-talk I have been doing since forever, saying it’s OK it’s fine if I have an occasional low-energy day and I’ll get back on the horse on Monday &c &c &c &c.” Diarist C46, not having quite settled into the summer rhythm, works on “returning to a morning writing habit” in the absence of a “big writing project.” And Diarist B37 dedicates much of his submission to an extended meditation on the cultural pressure for productivity, and why and how he resists it—why having a “lost day” on May 12, 2023 might have been just what the professor ordered.
We will return to this diary, and the larger issue of productivity, in another blog post soon.