2020 Reflections: Kirsten and Chloe
The final instalment of our 2020 Reflections by Chloe and Kirsten.
Artwork by Issy Stephens in collaboration with Ekphriasis for their 4th digital volume (Instagram: @lightsleeperstudio).
At the end of January last year, I met a friend after a tutorial. We complained about morning lectures and the trek to university from our flats. At some point during our conversation, we watched in disbelieving awe footage of the deserted Wuhan streets and marvelled at the apocalyptic scenes. It was like watching a documentary; it was shocking and unsettling but remained distant, mere images on a screen. Afterwards, the phone was pocketed and we continued to rail at trivial inconveniences.
Just over a month later, murmurs of panic had begun to inch their way into conversations as the first universities cancelled their exams and the previously remote Wuhan scenes were replicated across Europe. In conversation with a friend, I wondered at the prospect of our exams being cancelled, more out of laziness than any true understanding of the impending global situation. In a tone that can only be described as boyish arrogance, I was assured by my companion that they wouldn’t be, though now it is clear that it was in fact ignorance and a shared naivety about the rapidly advancing virus.
A mere two days after this interaction, my flatmates and I had all been called home by fretting parents as fear spread exponentially. We hurriedly gutted our flat, said our farewells and booked transport home. The airport was eerily empty and I was reminded of the images of Wuhan. I remember feeling slightly irritated at having to leave Edinburgh early, as well as a form of curious excitement at the prospect of living through a historical pandemic (guess my degree!).
My experience over the summer of 2020 was, like the majority of others, isolating. However, on reflection, I was incredibly privileged. Yes, I was irritated at having to cancel plans made to travel to Jordan and Myanmar. Yes, I was uneasy due to the uncertainty clouding my return to university, and yes, I was frustrated at times by the monotony of the days and weeks stretching out before me, punctured by socially distanced walks or essential trips to the supermarket. Nonetheless, living in the countryside with a large garden surrounded by hills during the summer, I led a bucolic existence for 6 months. Despite the world crumbling around me, I was able to spend time with my family and to enjoy being at home without feeling the pressure of having to do something productive every day.
Ironically, it was when I returned to university for the winter months that the worst effects of 2020 were felt. With the combination of seasonal and pandemic mental health crises, the unsettling side effects of a year in isolation were starkly visible. Freshers imprisoned in blocks of student accommodation without sufficient food, robbed of the traditional and much-anticipated experiences of first year, with rising student suicides across the country. Mental health concerns combined with pandemic panic, contradictory messages from the government and darkening days culminated in a subdued Christmas. Come New Year's Eve, messages such as “2020 see ya never” were plastered all over Instagram and yet in the early weeks of 2021, the preceding year continues to haunt us. I can only hope that by 2022, we shall be able to resume in-person lectures and the trek to university from our flats.
I had 2020 in my sights long before it arrived. It was a point I was always moving steadily towards. The year I was going to graduate and start my actual, proper life. Seems laughable now, doesn’t it?
Instead of the glittering year I had hoped for, my time, like everyone else’s, was defined by broken promises and cancelled plans. I still graduated, but online, alone, rather than amongst my class. We still celebrated, but in the garden, reserved, rather than proudly in McEwan Hall. It was oddly anti-climactic. My university career just seemed to fizzle out.
Completely discombobulated, I decided to turn my intended year of endings into one of new beginnings. I threw myself into a postgraduate degree and became completely immersed in university life again, if only to forget the messy reality beyond George Square. While the whole world felt stagnant, it was nice to be busy.
Things are weird right now. Nothing looks how I had imagined it would. Real life remains on hold. But 2020 did ultimately, miraculously, bring me some good surprises, as well as all that lovely doom and gloom.
This article was edited by Tamara El-Halawani and Phoebe McKechnie.