Election season 2020. Where the real work begins—as a nation and as a second-year graduate student.
In the Fine Arts two-year program, the fall of the second year is when candidates must complete a written thesis. November is when we would normally hold open studios, an event where the Columbia community and public would have the opportunity to visit our studios and engage with us (the basement art gremlins of the 1104 building). Last year had a great turnout, and it was a fun time to make new friends, engage with the community, and to introduce our work. Unfortunately, this year’s event was cancelled. Instead, we are focusing our efforts on our thesis presentations where my cohort and I will present our body of work and how we envision it to be displayed for our spring thesis exhibition. I am looking forward to seeing the work of my peers—we do not see each other much with how busy we have been and with the virtual era. Our art has changed and grown. Watching myself and my fellow grad students create in reaction to our changing world has been the most rewarding part of this program. I am so proud of us. And I miss us.
Last year, Ava and I celebrated our first Thanksgiving and Christmas season together in Chicago. We went shopping at Trader Joe’s and cooked for our friends. I made pasta and candied yams with marshmallows and Ava cooked an Iranian rice dish (one with chicken and one without since I am a vegetarian) and a salad. Both of us love the Home Alone movies, so we made a pilgrimage to the McCallister house in Winnetka before I went home for Christmas break.
I have a flight booked for the Thanksgiving break to come back to Chicago and continue our tradition. Though I know we would not be able to make the pilgrimage north and that we would be spending the time Home Alone, I’m not sure now if I will be able to go at all due to the current spike in COVID-19 cases. Pennsylvania, where I live, is an orange state. Per the Chicago Emergency Travel Order, I would have to get a COVID test 72 hours prior to coming into the city and provide proof of a negative test. However, where I live testing is only available to those people who are actively experiencing symptoms of the virus (and there are far fewer places to be tested than in Chicago). I also would not be able to isolate myself easily from the rest of my household upon returning home to Pittsburgh. My family have agreed to support my decision if I decide to travel, but I feel the virus is becoming increasingly dangerous. A young child of a friend of our family recently tested positive after visiting a hospital. My younger sister works at that same hospital, where even the staff don’t follow proper guidelines. She rarely visits now and wears a mask and social distances when she does. My young niece and nephew come over once a week to play and de-stress—I am terrified that they or my parents will get sick if I bring the virus home with me. It breaks my heart.
The election results were announced last week and Pfizer announced its in-progress vaccination that may have a 90% prevention rate. There is still a lot of work to be done. It feels like every single day has new and unexpected challenges, and I hate that I cannot be together with my Columbia tribe. At the end of fighting every day’s battles, though, I go to bed knowing that there will be brighter days ahead. And so we roll with the punches and we fight on.