Digital Diaries: Thesis Writing in Quarantine

Victoria Benefield, Assistant Video Editor

In the first episode of Digital Diaries, travel back in time to the end of March and experience quarantine through the recordings of Weinberg senior Amos Pomp, who spent quarantine in his Evanston apartment. Pomp recorded his daily thoughts, feelings, and activities for the first week of Illinois’ stay-at-home order.

AMOS POMP: Hey, this is Amos Pomp, I’m majoring in American Studies, and I am a fourth year. It is March 24 at 8 p.m. and this is my first recording for the Daily Diary.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Victoria Benefield. Welcome to Digital Diaries, a podcast capturing people’s lives in their own words. A few weeks ago, we asked Northwestern students and professors to record themselves in their daily lives — what they were thinking, feeling, and doing — as the effects of COVID-19 began to hit Northwestern’s community. You’ve already met the subject of this episode, Amos Pomp. For the next few minutes, he’s going to take you back in time to the end of March, just a few days after the stay-at-home order was issued in Illinois.

AMOS POMP: I am in Evanston in my off-campus apartment near Hinman (Avenue) and Davis (Street) with my roommate, Melia (Agudelo). We made the decision — who knows when? A week and a half ago that we were going to stay here in Evanston instead of going home. Melia’s family lives in Portland, (Oregon), and my family lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I love my family and I want to see them. But I figured that it would be a little bit more isolating there, potentially a little bit more boring, and I would find it harder to motivate myself to do work. And I have some family in Ravenswood in Chicago. And part of the reason also why I thought it would be fine to stay here is, I figured, if we don’t see people outside of a very small circle, then it would be fine. But then the stay-at-home order happened and it just seemed like a better idea to not see other folks, really. So I decided to stay here and I’m glad that Melia did too. Our other roommate went home a week ago Monday, so it’s just been the two of us for a while.

We don’t really have a routine here, and part of that was because I had a thesis deadline yesterday. So for the past maybe seven, eight days, I spent at least five hours working on my thesis, just trying to get as complete of a draft as possible so that when I sent it off yesterday, I can not worry about it for the next week and a half or two weeks while I wait for feedback from my thesis seminar professor and my thesis advisor. But that was a really huge relief. A really good moment last night when I turned that in. It’s not done but it’s a lot closer than it was a week ago, way closer than it was three weeks ago. So I’m feeling pretty good about my thesis and that it’s definitely in a spot where I can let it go for the next week.

So I turned in my thesis, was chilling, went to bed, woke up. My roommate and I have been watching Adventure Time.

We’re trying to watch it all, but now we’re toward the end of season four. And then cooking. So Melia is also really into cooking which is awesome for me ‘cause I like to cook, but I don’t like to plan how to cook and I’m not very good at it, so I’m all for helping out with other people cooking and then eating together. So we cook and watch Adventure Time, and then chat with friends online, through FaceTime or whatever, or talk to our families in separate rooms. We spend a lot of time together obviously, because (it’s) just the two of us in the apartment, but sometimes we just chill in bed or whatever.

The last week or so, we’ll have moments where we’re sad or lonely or anxious or scared or whatnot. But I think we’re both doing OK here in Evanston, and it would be a pain to travel now and maybe not the best idea.

The one thing we have been doing is we do have a small quarantine circle in Evanston. So we’ve seen two of our friends who live together in a different apartment. And we’re questioning now whether that’s been the best idea. Today I drove the four of us to H Mart (in) Niles because we all wanted to go and restock on some food. Melia and I bought a bunch of veggies and snacks and just some stuff to restock for a little bit more because now we’re really thinking that we should avoid even shopping as we have been. I’m starting to think maybe now it’s more of a, “Let’s not see even those two people anymore and maybe just go for walks on our own,” cause things keep spreading.

AMOS POMP: Heard today about a friend’s dad’s coworker who died of the virus. I know this is gonna last for a while and I know we should be doing all we can to stop it. And we thought we were being careful. But sounds like we need to be even more careful since we have the ability to do so. Hm, I don’t know. Kind of sad there.

I work for Chicago Voyagers, an outdoor adventure therapy organization. And we’ve obviously canceled programs for a while. But if we cancel programming with youth through mid-June and graduation’s not gonna happen and I can do all my administrative work for my job remotely and finish my thesis edits remotely, I don’t need to be on campus. Then, Melia and I were like, “Well, would we really quarantine here until the end of May or until mid-June or whatever?” Or should we decide to drive together to either Portland or Chapel Hill and then just be at home with family? So that’s on our minds. We’ll see what happens. That would be down the road, not in a rush to cross any state lines at the moment without thinking it through. Yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. Bye!

AMOS POMP: It is March 25, 2:18 p.m. I went on a bike ride this morning. It was really dang nice outside. I called a few people on a bench on campus and then got home and my roommate and I were gonna have a picnic, so she made brown butter gnocchi and I made a salad. We brought it up to our roof because our building has a little rooftop patio, and now we are listening to music and dancing on the roof in the sun because the sun is out for the first time before 3 p.m. in a long time.

And we’re just chilling and I don’t know, I feel pretty happy with all this vitamin D entering my system and all the UV rays burning my dry, dry skin. Yeah. I don’t know, we’re chilling. We’ll see what happens next in this quarantine saga. See you from the same place in a year because no one’s going anywhere. Bye!

AMOS POMP: It is 12:30 a.m. on March 26. So after our picnic, my roommate and I did a deep clean of our dining room, living room, entryway, and I cleaned my bathroom. Worked a bit of a sweat scrubbing things. And then my roommate and I watched Portrait of a Lady on Fire. It’s a very gay movie. We loved it. I would recommend. Big decision is that I have an aunt and uncle and two cousins who live in Ravenswood, Chicago, and I just really want to see them quite badly. So we’re going to check in at like 2 p.m. tomorrow and see if Melia and I want to come over and we’d probably sit on the front porch, do like a very socially distanced hangout. Probably not good for us to go into their house or definitely not eat a meal with them. But I just want to see them. See other people. Would be really nice. So we’re gonna decide that tomorrow. Then the big decision down the road is how long we want to stay in Evanston, depending on whether I may have to go back to work, or how long shelter-in-place is going to last. Flying doesn’t sound like a good idea. Even driving home doesn’t seem like the best idea. It’s also only been like a week and a half. But just the idea of the stretching out of time of like two, three months from now — it would be nice to think about going to family. Pretty weird. That’s occupying more space in my mind than I thought it would be. We’ll see. Bye.

AMOS POMP: It is March 26 at 5:27 p.m. My roommate and I decided to go on a social distance road trip today where we first went to see our friends at their house in Winnetka and they brought out their dog. And then we came down to my aunt and uncle’s place in Ravenswood and my aunt and uncle and my cousin said hi. And now we’re outside with my cousin Izzy (Eisen).



IZZY EISEN: And we’ve eaten lots of peanut — nope, not peanut — pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

AMOS POMP: Yes, they had pumpkin chocolate chip cookies that we placed in the middle of their front porch. And Melia and I are sitting on one side and they’re sitting on the other. And we’ve had some cheery laughs and some thoughtful conversations. It’s extremely gray, but there’s still a ton of people out walking their dogs. Said hello and it’s bringing me joy to my extroverted soul. Yay! Bye!

AMOS POMP: It is March 26 at 10:38 p.m. So after Melia and I were at my uncle and aunt’s house with my cousin, we went for a little drive because we just didn’t want to go home. And it was nice to be in the car listening to music and chatting and looking at houses. We finally got home and we FaceTimed our other roommate, who’s at home in Virginia, and Netflix Party watched a few episodes of Glee, which we’ve been watching for the last quarter.

And that was hilarious because we all have opinions and commentary and Glee is such an objectively terrible show that you love to hate. And now we’re gonna go back to watching other TV because what else is there to do? You know, tomorrow will be another day and we will do other things.

AMOS POMP: It’s March 27 at 11:45 a.m. and I’m sitting on our building’s roof, though it’s quite chilly and cloudy and foggy and you can’t really see Lake Michigan at all. I’m eating some cinnamon rolls that we just cooked up. Fun little adventures. Anyway, it’s kind of cold, so I’m going to go back inside. Bye!

AMOS POMP: It’s March 28 at 10:00 p.m. and I haven’t done a diary podcast in a while. I’m sitting on the couch watching Adventure Time with my best roommate, Melia. Yesterday, we went for a long walk. Oh, we also went to Brothers K (Coffeehouse)! And I got a mocha and it was delicious. I’m having trouble regulating my awakeness and my sleep and my caffeination during these days. There’s not enough time to take a nap, but all I want to do all day is nap.

Oh, and we made brownies from a Ghirardelli’s brownie mix and I think they were a little bit underbaked, but that’s ‘cause the box is like, “Do not overbake.” Then we went to bed. This morning, I woke up. That’s it. It’s 10:00 p.m., and that’s all that happened today. What did I — oh! And we went on a drive and we went along some streets to Glenview, where there is a little coffee shop called the Glenview Grind (Coffee) House and they have a drive through. And I wanted some caffeine.

We also stopped by the Skokie Lagoons to get out and see the lagoons and the fog. It was cold, but I just wanted to get outside and it was really pretty. Anyway, time just passes, you know, like, is this really that exciting? Maybe. And now we’re watching more TV because what else are we going to do?

AMOS POMP: It’s Monday, March 30th at 1:15 p.m. I woke up this morning for a check-in call with work, and then I chatted with my friend who lives in southern Spain for a while. She lives on a small farm with her family and Spain is in martial law. But the army is really just out to clean things and obviously not shoot people, but they are enforcing rules. It doesn’t all apply to her on the farm. But you can only be within 15 meters of your house. Only one person can be in a car unless you can prove why you have more than one person. So they can’t go shopping as a family and they’re doing shopping for other people, too. So only one of them can go do that.

But they’re really just trying to get it all under control sooner rather than later, which is what we could be doing here. But I think because we’re not doing anything super strict like that and people are still playing things by ear, it’s going to take it a little bit longer. My boss is saying he’s reading that it might peak around Easter and then go down after that. And I’m like, “OK. And then if we respond too quickly, it’ll just peak again. So we need to contain it for long enough so that it goes away for a while and we can get a vaccine and respond better the next time it resurges.”

I’m going to walk to Al’s Deli now and get a sandwich ‘cause they’re open for takeout and Al’s is great. And I’m excited to go for a walk. It’s also my mom’s birthday, so I’m gonna call her on the walk and see what’s up. Yay. Bye.

AMOS POMP: It’s March 31 at 11:53 a.m. My walk to Al’s was really nice. Oh, it was so pretty outside. It was a little bit chilly. I wish it could’ve been a little bit warmer and there were a few people out. So I had a nice walk and then I was in Al’s. It was kind of sad. I was like, “How’s it going, y’all?” And he was like, “Well, on the upside, everyone’s healthy. But on the downside, business is terrible.” And Al’s is so cute and delicious, so it’s sad that this is just like slamming small businesses. And then I brought the sandwiches home. Melia and I ate them quite quickly, ‘cause they were delicious. So go support small businesses. Yay!

And then I finished reading my friend’s completed thesis. For inspiration for my own thesis. And also to support her. It’s really interesting. Learned stuff.

And then Melia made kimchi udon for dinner. And that was fricking delicious. So good. And then we got really bored, so we watched TV for a while. It was my mom’s birthday. So they called me to sing happy birthday. My dad and my sister brought out a cake for her, but I didn’t get to talk very long because then my uncle called my mom.

We watched TV. We watched more TV. We chatted for a bit. We watched more TV. I guess yesterday turned out to be decent. I’m trying to think of setting a date for when to leave Evanston because I think there’d be more for us to do and we’d be happier if we got up and went somewhere. The question is, do I really want to go to Portland and stay with Melia’s family or do we split up and go to our own houses? Hard decisions. Sad to think about. But I don’t think we should just keep staying here for two more months. Just the two of us. We’re going to get overly bored.

So that’s hard. Yeah. Yesterday wasn’t terrible, Sunday wasn’t terrible, Saturday was really, really boring. And there are just moments where we’re like, “What do we do?” Can’t think of anything to do. We have little tasks around home, but it’s hard to motivate us to do stuff separately or to do much.

AMOS POMP: Hey, it’s Amos Pomp, at 11:59 p.m. on March 31, wrapping up my first week of podcasting. Today we had a two-hour game night with our friends. We played Psych! and Photo Roulette. It was fun. I had my grandma’s birthday party on Zoom, but their microphone didn’t work for my grandma and grandpa so the rest of us were just like, “Oh!’ so we sang “Happy Birthday” to them. It was kinda depressing, but also really nice to see people. Yeah. Life’s sad. Bye.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Amos started recording just four days into the stay-at-home order in Illinois. Originally, that was only supposed to last through April 7, but just last week, it was extended to May 30. We caught up with him last week to see how his life has changed since he stopped recording.

AMOS PUMP: We decided to stay in Evanston, my roommate and I, in the first few days when flying home was still like, “Oh, you should fly home before stay-at-home orders go into effect.” Everyone at that point was like, “Oh, this will be over by the end of April at the latest.” Obviously, we all learned pretty quickly that that wasn’t the case. So right at the start, it made sense for us to stay here. I had plans to see family in April for Passover, March for my cousin’s graduation, and in June for my graduation anyways.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: But as social distancing rules increased and stay-at-home orders were extended, Amos reconsidered his decision.

AMOS POMP: As those restrictions started to pile up and as I realized that if I don’t go see my family now and I start working full time in the summer, the next time I might see them in person is Thanksgiving. That combination of realization was like, “Oh, it would be cool to go home for a couple weeks now.’ And then we were like, OK, what does that look like? Me driving for a day? When do we want to pack up and leave?’ We didn’t want to hurry it. So like a couple weeks ago, we were like, OK, let’s set a date two weeks out and just plan for that.

They drove out to North Carolina last Thursday and have been with Amos’ family since.

AMOS PUMP: Being home is nice. You can hear people in the background. My cousin was going to dye her hair red and her eyebrows a different color. And so I said that if she got this one color of purple that I would dye my hair too. So I’m currently sitting with hair dye in my hair, after a good day of canoeing outside on our lake and chilling in the beautiful North Carolina weather. So it’s good here, we’re chilling. I’m finishing up my thesis, Malia’s finishing up her project.

I’ve just found it so hard to motivate myself to do my thesis. Haven’t really set a schedule for myself, so that’s where this week sort of comes into play. Yesterday, my therapist and I came to the conclusion that I am bored, which is a thrilling realization. I’m doing things most of the day. But they’re, like, repetitive. So it’s been hard to find new stimuli. And then the fact that I could be working on my thesis at any point just is sort of seeping into other things. And so even if I’m doing something else I’m like, “Oh, I’m not being productive because I’m not doing my thesis,” even though I’m being productive in other ways, so it’s not necessarily like a productivity culture thing. It’s just like, I don’t want to work on my thesis.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: Once he turns in this last assignment, Amos will have completed his bachelor’s degree at Northwestern. The day I caught up with Amos, April 22, Northwestern announced that the June 19 commencement ceremony would take place online. Although Amos expected this change, it’s still an underwhelming conclusion to his four years in college.

AMOS POMP: In the grand scheme of things, like if you’d asked me two years ago, I would have been like, “Yeah, I don’t care about college graduation, if I don’t end up going for some reason, if I would have some cool job that starts then, it won’t be a big deal.” But after this year, where I’ve been a part time student, and I’ve been working toward my thesis, and I was looking forward to graduation as a time to celebrate, a time for family, and a really cool marker to look forward to between finishing my thesis and moving into full time employment. It was just going to be fun. It was going to be a proud moment. It was gonna be exciting. And you see nice pictures of people at the Lakefill in purple robes and it’s like, “Well, OK, never. Not gonna happen to me.” So that’s a bit of a bummer and it’s gonna be a lot less climactic to turn in my paper and then just slide into post grad life instead of turning in my paper, having a good time and partying for the end of May and the start of June, and having a big celebration to look forward to. Instead it’s just like, boop, over.

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: That’s all for the first episode of Digital Diaries. Thanks for listening!

VICTORIA BENEFIELD: This episode was reported and produced by me, Victoria Benefield. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Molly Lubbers, the digital managing editors are Kalen Luciano and Heena Srivastava, and the editor in chief is Marissa Martinez.

Email: [email protected]