Dorm Pie

By Erika Nelson

As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction. 

I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.  

The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them. 

Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …

I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times. 

Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other. 

Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either.  But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time. 

A Juggling Act

by Beth Royston

It’s important to have a good work-life balance. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, many people’s lives are crossing over into one another, the lines and boundaries blurring together. For myself and other students, it’s a constant struggle to stay on top of everything and maintain those boundaries. I work remotely right now, so many parts of my day take place in the same room. I work at my desk, log onto my classes at my desk and relax at my desk. It can also be a struggle to define your day with online classes. Since you can do the work at any time of day, everything bleeds into each other.

However, I’ve had some success keeping my day defined with Google Calendar. I used to rely on a physical planner because I liked having something to hold and write in, but I have permanently switched over to an online one! You can’t beat how portable an online calendar is, as well as mess-free to edit. My favorite feature is definitely the ability to have your task list right next to you when using Google Calendar on the computer. I also appreciate that you can create different calendars for different aspects of your life (and color-code them). For instance, I have a work calendar, a homework calendar and a personal calendar. I can toggle my homework calendar on and off to see due dates for assignments and remove it if it’s causing too much clutter. It’s also helped me to schedule my day, if I know I have a bunch of things to get done but no particular time to do it. This has helped me feel like there’s some semblance of normal during this time, and I’d absolutely recommend it for anyone wanting to get organized. You can also use Google Calendar on your phone if you need to check things on the go. 

It’s also helped me to make some clearer boundaries for my work-life balance. Obviously, it will never be back to normal until I’m commuting again, but I’ve tried to create boundaries where I can. If I’m done with work and classes for the day, I try not to allow myself to drift into homework mode when I have some time to myself. Focusing on homework during a specific time helps me stay productive. Obviously, something different works for everyone, and doing homework here and there throughout the day might work better for you. However you’re getting through trying to live a normal life when things are decidedly not-normal, I wish you the best.

Winter is Coming.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’re in this together.

By Erika Nelson

Governor Kate Brown recently announced new social-distancing requirements across Oregon. Most counties will have to follow the new guidelines for at least two weeks, but Multnomah County and other COVID hotspots will stay shut down even longer. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee recently announced similar restrictions. I’m willing to bet that it’s only a matter of time before Governor Gavin Newsom follows suit in California, making shutdowns in the West Coast states three-for-three.

Needless to say, this is unwelcome news. Everyone is fatigued from the months of isolation, and it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security from the warmer months’ improvement. But the pandemic is nowhere near over, and as we move into the colder months, our collective situation is likely to become even more dire. It’s more important than ever to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, and taking the basic precautions to slow the virus’ spread.

Yes, these measures are inconvenient. Like everyone else, I’ve been irritated and upset by the shutdowns and restrictions. Earlier this year, I had to postpone medical procedures that weren’t deemed essential. A large part of why I chose PSU was Portland’s vibrant social and cultural scene, and I haven’t been able to experience most of the places and businesses that Portland is known for. In fact, I might very well finish out my time in college without seeing the inside of another classroom. The lower half of my face is constantly breaking out in “maskne.” None of these inconveniences are life-and-death situations, though.

What I’m saying shouldn’t be controversial: People need to face facts and follow the safety measures that save lives. I am sick of the head-in-the-sand science denial, the conspiracy theories, the people endlessly complaining on social media about the basic measures meant to keep themselves and others safe. It’s disheartening. It’s disheartening to know that millions upon millions of people complain about masks: Masks causing people to inhale carbon dioxide (they don’t), masks being uncomfortable (fair enough, but not important), masks somehow violate constitutional freedoms (not true), or any number of excuses. Some people flaunt going maskless and give performative, self-righteous rants in private businesses or record themselves marching through public in some kind of virtue-signaling display, extending America’s hyper-partisan us-vs-them narrative into public health.

Masks are not political. Public health is not political.

There are some things you just can’t argue about. There are facts, and then there are opinions. “That’s just my opinion, and you need to respect it!” Well, your opinion doesn’t mean much when America’s premier health advisor says the country “could not be positioned more poorly” with regards to the virus’ spread. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when cases are surging almost everywhere. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when hospitals are overwhelmed and record numbers of people are dying. Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have long warned that the cooler weather will bring more cases, and that if we don’t collectively change our habits, the pandemic will become even worse. 

The only way to prevent future lockdowns and stricter requirements is to follow the rules now. Everyone needs to take this pandemic seriously. Please. If you go out, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize. This isn’t hard. This isn’t forever. The more we adopt these lifestyle changes, the closer we are to going back to normal.

Not-So-Great Expectations: Adjusting Plans During the Pandemic

By Erika Nelson

I’m a list-maker: Homework assignments, goals, chores, funny things I overheard in the Park Blocks…you name it, I have a list for it! Four times a year, I create a “bucket list,” itemizing everything I want to do that season: swimming and barbeques in the summer. Haunted houses and pumpkin-picking in the fall. Holiday parties in the winter. Travel for spring break. 

At least, that’s what my bucket lists consisted of in simpler times. I now look back on my Spring 2020 bucket list—compiled just before the lockdown—and laugh: buy new warm-weather clothes? Pfft—fitting rooms were havens for germs even before the pandemic! Go to the gym every other day? Ridiculous—even if the rec center was open, I’d still want to stay home and social distance myself. Get involved in campus activities? Ha! I was so young and naïve six months ago. 

As fate would have it, Spring of 2020 was not a good time to make plans. Events were cancelled all over the world, and people abandoned their new years resolutions even faster than usual. Hopes that everything would quickly go back to normal were shattered when the days in quarantine turned to weeks and months. Needless to say, I didn’t bother creating a Summer 2020 bucket list. 

I’m trying to be optimistic for this autumn, though. I’m making two lists: one for if things stay as they are now, and places are open with social distancing measures, and another in case another shutdown happens. On the first list, I have things like socially-distant pumpkin picking and attending a limited-capacity haunted house. On the second list, I include seasonal things I can do on my own in my apartment, like decorating the outside of my door with paper skeletons and baking pumpkin cookies. 

2020 is the year of uncertainty. We don’t know what the world is going to be like in a week, a month, a year, or even tomorrow. It will be a long time before the novel coronavirus is fully understood. We might have to wear masks long-term, and we all need to make radical adjustments to how we socialize and celebrate (I’ve heard rumors that “Zoom-or-Treating” might be a thing, and the term “Halloween mask” has an entirely different meaning this year). But life goes on, and being flexible with your expectations is better than having no expectations. Even if you have to tweak your plans to comply with 2020’s new world, we all need things to look forward to. 

Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.

Crafting in Quarantine: “Quaranzines”

By Erika Nelson

Whether in mandatory or self-imposed isolation, people are turning to hobbies like arts and crafts to keep themselves occupied.  One fun project having a moment on social media is zine-making: The hashtag #quaranzine has over 5,000 hits on Instagram.

Merriam-Webster defines a zine as “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.” There is no right or wrong way to make a zine — it can be handmade or digital; thrown together or carefully planned. Zines can be anything you want — a mini-book of self-published poetry, a political manifesto, your own comic book…the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and materials available. 

I made two different zines using this paper-folding tutorial. One is called This is Your Life Now, and I used acrylic paint and magazine clippings to create a tongue-in-cheek manual for embracing the new normal. 

I included a spread featuring things I do in quarantine, such as sleep, play games… 

…and fantasize about being productive. 

My second zine was a parody of Time magazine: The cover features an image of more innocent times — a crowded beach — and the headline, “There will be no summer (and probably no autumn).” 

Of  course, I had to include fake advertisements. 

I encourage everyone to try making their own quaranzines! Arts and crafts do more than just fill free hours — they can be therapeutic during scary and uncertain times, and sharing your art on social media can help foster community in a time of isolation. So grab some art supplies, fire up the publishing software, or simply use a paper and pen — let’s do some quarantine crafting!

Summer Woes

by Beth Royston

While I am eagerly awaiting finals to be finished, I’m not exactly looking forward to summertime either. I’m a student that chooses to take a break over the summer and not take any classes, and work to save up as much as I can for expenses throughout the year. I usually approach summer with mixed feelings. I enjoy the break from classes, but I also miss them! However, I think this year will be different, and not in a good way.

I really despised the summers during high school — it’s an easy recipe for my depression to fester, sitting at home with not much of a structure and things to do. Now, my life is a lot busier, with a side business to run, a garden to take care of, novel chapters to write. However, there’s a looming possibility I won’t be able to go anywhere or see friends often — something else that echoes high school — and I’m worried about my mental health. While I’m happy to have a break from classes, as all-online learning has not agreed with me, I’m worried about the lack of deadlines. 

I appreciate that PSU has been asking for student input on what fall term will look like. I’m really hoping that classes are ideally split between online and in-person, which is the type of schedule I prefer anyway. If things are due to be all online again, I think I’m going to have to avoid taking the full course load I usually do, as I’m not confident my grades will be able to stick with another entirely online term. Thankfully, I have some leeway in my graduation plan where I can take less classes now and more later. 

A lot of friends and family I’ve been talking to have also been struggling with their mental health during this time, and worrying about their future when they are forced to perform as usual during these incredibly stressful circumstances. I’m also a planner, so I like looking forward to the future. However, when times are uncertain, it’s not easy to plan for things five months from now, because it’s impossible to tell if they’ll be open. I appreciate the opportunity to still be able to take classes and work on my degree during this time, but I feel my resolve and determination slowly slipping through my fingers.

Feeling Helpless in a Time of Great Need

IMG_0830 By: Anna Sobczyk

One of the cornerstones of my job as a Resident Academic Mentor —programming—came to a complete standstill with COVID-19. Throughout the term, I normally put on programs that promote holistic wellness in order to achieve academic success. With its absence, I honestly feel like the rewarding aspect of my job has been ripped away. All of us in Housing have lost the in-person connection to residents and we miss providing them the support of programming. I continue to live on campus, and my residents know I’m still here because I send out weekly emails, but I feel more like a ghost in their inbox than anything else.

It  is hard to know how to support my residents and other students during these times. This has been echoed by my teammates and other student leaders. PSU students are experiencing financial, mental health, academic, and other hardships that are all unique. I’m not qualified to provide specialized help in those areas.  I have to refer students out to online counseling services with SHAC and virtual appointments with the Financial Wellness Center. I hold zero sway with unaccommodating and unsupportive professors. All I can do is listen and offer resources, and it makes me feel useless.

My position as a Resident Academic Mentor gave me a sense of purpose in the past. I built a community at PSU through this role and really found my place on campus. I enjoyed helping people and feel privileged to have heard so many life stories. Now, with the pandemic, I feel like I’m just going through the motions of my work. In the halls I strove to build connection, I have never felt so disconnected. Throughout this term, I’ve struggled to find meaning in my work when I am so utterly powerless to change my residents’ situations.

Making Do

By Erika Nelson

Recently, I wrote about my experiences under lockdown in student housing. Although being alone in quarantine was weighing on my mental health, I said that crashing with family or friends in Southern Oregon was not an ideal option for me. Since that post, I tried really hard to make the best of my situation —  I went through every coping skill I could think of: working out, journaling, playing computer games, texting friends and family, virtual therapy, throwing myself into homework — but I cracked. Living alone became too much to bear—so when the opportunity to fly down to Medford arose about a week ago, I took advantage of it, and set out for the Rogue Valley by way of a very, very lonely PDX.

I thought a lot about whether I would divulge that I fled Portland — I’d made such a big deal about staying put and weathering the lockdown on my own. Surely I can just pretend to still be in the dorms? Who would know the difference? Do I want people to think I’m weak? Besides being embarrassing to admit I broke down, I had traveled when not absolutely necessary, and still feel rather of ashamed about that. But I ultimately decided to be vulnerable in these vulnerable times, and share my experience.

The truth is, it’s ok to be overwhelmed, and it’s ok to make do with the resources you have. Like making do with frozen vegetables instead of fresh ones to avoid a trip to the grocery store, we are all making do in other ways with the resources available to us — mentally, physically, socially. It’s ok to break. It’s ok to be strong one week and a sobbing mess the next — because these are uncertain, scary times. 

I’m making do with what I have, and I am filled with so much gratitude that I have support available to me. I was lucky to get that flight to Medford. I’m lucky to have a family to take me in. I’m lucky that I went through the gauntlet of air travel without bringing disease into my home (well, as far as I know. I really hope that my next post isn’t written from a family member’s hospital bedside.) 

Many students are still alone on campus, and don’t have any other option but to stay. I feel guilty leaving them behind. Part of me feels like I should be there in solidarity. Another part feels justified that I did what I had to do to take care of myself. Maybe those opposing feelings aren’t mutually exclusive. 

To those who are struggling under the weight of lockdown, whether in isolation or not, here are some resources that might help:

PSU Student Resources: https://www.pdx.edu/unst/student-resources

Multnomah County Crisis Hotline: 503-988-4888.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233

Lockdown in Student Housing

By Erika Nelson

In March, Housing and Residence life sent out a mass email encouraging those of us in student housing to move if feasible. By doing so, we’d be lowering the amount of interpersonal contact in the buildings, and therefore lowering the chance that COVID-19 could spread among us.  The result was a mass exodus of student residents. For the last few weeks of winter term and throughout spring break, students hauled boxes and furniture out of their apartments. Many people abandoned their belongings altogether — and common areas quickly became littered with discarded microwaves, bedding, and half-used bottles of hot sauce. At first, the refuse left behind was annoying. But then the custodial staff removed it all, taking along with them any items that residents used to socialize and bond, such as the puzzles left out on tables for everyone to work on. This served only as a stark reminder of the tenants’ absences.

There are some perks that come from living in an almost-empty building — solo elevator rides save time, and I have yet to have to wait for access to a washing machine. The sheer emptiness of the building is palpable — instead of hearing music and muffled conversations when walking down the halls, there is a conspicuous silence. Common areas are empty. There are no more University Success events in the lobby. Even though those of us who remain are still in our rooms, typing on our laptops and having Zoom classes, it’s hard to ignore that the absence of so many residents is a symptom of the larger changes in the world.

I don’t have family close by. I wasn’t lucky enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how well you get along with your family) to be able to crash somewhere else while still remaining in Portland’s orbit. Sure, I could pay to rent a car and haul all my stuff back to Southern Oregon, and there’s no doubt that I miss my friends and family … but Portland is my home now. I’ve set up roots, and I’d rather try and stick out the pandemic locally rather than going through the added stress and expense of moving back and forth. 

There are times when I regret that decision. Being cooped up is weighing on me emotionally. I miss my loved ones. I miss socializing. I miss human touch. So many of the things that made me fall in love with the city, like restaurants and the county library, are closed for the foreseeable future. The truth is, no one knows how long this lockdown will last, and if things will ever go back to normal. Public officials are cautious about ending the stay-at-home order too soon. Not knowing a timeline and being able to count down days is disheartening. However, I have hope that we will all get through this and be stronger because of it. Even though the building is lonely, I know I’m not alone in feeling alone.