Walden in Real Life

Picture this: You’re a college student going into your second semester of sophomore year. You’ve registered for a few different 300-level English classes, all fulfilling different requirements. You’re excited to take an English class where you don’t read all eighteenth-century literature, because how many of those texts can you actually read before it gets a little old? You look at the required materials for your Digital Humanities class and one of the books is titled “Walden.” You have no idea what this means… is it a person? place? idea? You soon find out that it is the name of a pond surrounding the home of where the author of the book lives in semi-isolation.

Going into ENGL 340 where much of the course’s focus is on Walden, I thought it was quite unrealistic to live in the woods in a small cabin, being almost completely self-sufficient. Picturing myself in this situation, I’m sure I would be able to manage growing and preparing food to keep me alive, and finding some activities to keep me entertained. However, knowing myself and I rely on socializing to keep me busy, I could only do this for so long before I would become bored and get in my own head from feeling overwhelmingly alone with my thoughts. Thankfully, this was something that someone else did and not me. To each their own, right?

The last day of class before Spring Break, I was feeling extremely unmotivated and was considering not going to class, but I chose to go anyway. Little did I know, that would be the last day of ENGL 340 I would go to, but not because of my own choices. I think a lot of my other peers in the class were feeling the same lack of motivation that I was, seeing how there were few students in attendance. Towards the end of class, I got Twitter notification on my phone with a headline somewhere along the lines of “Governor Cuomo says that all SUNY schools will learn remotely for the rest of the school year.” I kept this to myself as I was still in shock that this could actually be real. About a minute later, one of my classmates, Leila, announced to the class the same thing that I had just seen.

Everyone in the class started asking questions out loud like “Is this actually real?” or “I live in Long Island, how am I just supposed to pack up and leave?” At the time, we didn’t actually know if the school would send us all home. I had some hope that we might be able to stay in the dorms and do our work there and just not go to class. The entire rest of the day was chaotic. Staff members didn’t know what was going on and there were so many rumors going on, I didn’t know what to believe. As an RA myself, I had concerned residents asking me what was actually going on and what they were supposed to do. I had to tell them that I didn’t know myself and that we would have to wait to receive word from the school about the next steps.

Eventually, it seemed like the school had reached a settled plan that students could go home for Spring Break and return if they notified their Area or Residence Director that they planned on coming back. There were also the options to stay at school during the break and for the rest of the semester or to go home completely. I planned on either staying for break with my friends who lived far away and didn’t want to travel back and forth, or to go home and return to school after break. Either way, I was just relieved at the time that I wouldn’t have to live at home and I could come back to school and still spend time with my friends, even if we couldn’t attend classes or have a normal rest of the semester.

To my surprise, when I was home at the beginning of break, I received an email saying I had to return to school, gather my belongings, and move out of my dorm room completely. I immediately texted my friends wondering if they saw it, too. A few days later, I drove back to Geneseo, moved out of my room, and said goodbye to my few friends and fellow staff members in my building. I had no idea that my life for the next few months would turn into a living example of what I had read about in Walden.

I guess what I can say I learned from all this is to “never say never,” because truly anything can happen. Also, I think it’s an important lesson to not believe everything you hear, because the news makes mistakes, too and rumors can spread quickly, especially in a time like this. I never thought that such a unique situation as Thoreau’s would ever become a reality I would live myself, but now I can appreciate Walden in my own new way. In the end, being quarantined wasn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it has had a significant impact on the way I view life and even the ‘humanities’ as we have talked about the various meanings of this concept in class. At then end of the day, I guess it’s pretty cool that I got to live out my own 2-month-long episode (and counting) of one of my favorite shows: The Twilight Zone !

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