Digital Diaries: A Week of Worry

Max Lubbers, Reporter

McCormick senior Joshua Salazar shares what life was like for them as winter quarter finals came to an end. When they first recorded, they had to figure out how to move back to California. Now, taking one class and graduating without returning to campus, Joshua’s senior spring wasn’t what they quite expected. But back in their family’s home, Joshua has taken on a new project to keep themselves fulfilled and socially connected: streaming almost 40 hours on Twitch every week.

MAX LUBBERS: The following podcast contains explicit language.

MAX LUBBERS: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Max Lubbers. Welcome to Digital Diaries, a podcast capturing people’s lives in their own words. Back before Spring Quarter started, 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.

JOSHUA SALAZAR: My name is Joshua Salazar, I’m a senior in biomedical engineering, and my pronouns are they/them.

MAX LUBBERS: Joshua started recording on Thursday, March 19. Northwestern had just recommended most students go home if they could. Joshua realized they needed to return to California, but had to figure out when and how. But I’ll let them tell the story.

JOSHUA SALAZAR: Right now it’s 5:48 a.m. on Thursday morning. I was talking with my friends earlier and I was wrestling with some hard questions that were posed by the decision to take a final or not to take a final. It’s optional, because it’s not really an option we’ve had before.

Why don’t I want to put in the effort, why don’t I want to put in the work for this, you know, what’s stopping me from being able to do my best? And, you know, in a neutral situation, if you take the pressure off of something, it should make it even easier, right? You know, in this case, it feels like it’s gotten a lot harder. But what’s so hard about preparing for these tests, what makes me have such bad anxiety? Is it really this virus thing? I don’t know, when I put it like that it sounds kind of weird, but it’s given me a lot of reflection. And that, in turn, has led to a lot of growth. I’m glad that a lot of the upheaval that it’s caused has at least allowed for growth and for people to move towards things that are better for them.

MAX LUBBERS: But just a bit later into that week, everything seemed to change. Joshua wasn’t sure if they’d be able to return to live in their fraternity. And they needed to figure out how to get to California, which was already going into a stay-at-home order.

JOSHUA SALAZAR: Christ, I am fucking stressed. So, a couple days ago, it was all, you know, how am I gonna balance doing exams and trying to get that stuff done with all of the COVID(-19) stuff and just you know, getting stuff organized it’s like, “Oh, when am I going to come home?” and everything. Everything’s gotten a lot more complicated. All the flights are being canceled, especially, which is just awful, because I’ve had two Southwest flights just be canceled on me. Now it’s everything’s kind of getting clusterfucked. That house I’m living in, I asked them, I was like, “Hey, guys,” you know the people that are liaisons — I’m like, “Hey, so do you know when these people will be able to ship my stuff out since you offered,” and they’re like, “Oh no. No. We didn’t offer to ship your stuff out. We offered to box it.” Like fucking box it? What the fuck is a $5 box gonna do for me? So you know, I’m not in a good position there. 

At least, at least we got the flight out. But I’m stressed because of fucking money, because now I gotta ship my stuff out because otherwise I’m without my my desktop for a couple months and I’m really starting to get into a groove with some stuff. That would be a huge loss and it’s now, fuck, now it’s I leave tomorrow. So I guess nothing’s really changed there. But now I’ve just there’s so much more uncertainty involved. Honestly, I’d love to like fly back, grab my car, drive out here and grab all my stuff and drive back immediately and just say, fuck it. I’m staying home for the rest of the quarter. But I’d have to make that decision now, I guess. That’s not something I’m really prepared to do right now. Like, right, right now. I mean, right now. I mean, I could? Christ, I have to so I guess it’s either it’s either I do that or — I guess I’ve got to come back to all my stuff. So it’s a matter of do I do it in three months or do I do it basically over the weekend? 

Man, this sucks. This sucks. My parents aren’t gonna want me to do it now because one: Everything’s closing and it’s gonna be hard, but two: They obviously still want to come and watch me do graduation. And I want to be here for graduation. I want to be here for Spring Quarter but we can’t, I think, at this point. So maybe that’ll inform my decision a little bit. 

But nothing good is coming from this right now. This is causing me a lot of stress. Because at least for the last couple days, I was in a groove. I was just kind of here. And I didn’t have anywhere to go. I was getting stuff done. Maybe not the right stuff done, but stuff I liked doing. I was at the least enjoying it. 

Now I have to worry about money. Yeah, I really got to worry about money. And I was in a little bit of a hole before this whole thing started. So now it’s only getting worse. Christ. Christ. It’s not good. Not good. That’s all I have for right now, It’s 5:34 on Friday.

The date is March 27. I am in Sacramento, California. And I’m going to provide my big ol’ update on how things have been going. Things have been pretty busy. 

So I got back from Illinois. I’ve gotta say, the airport was just empty. The flight was just empty. I mean, it’s crazy. And getting out of the city was really the hassle because I had to basically make a decision: Was I going to ship everything? Or was I just kind of trying to leave stuff there and plan on coming back to get it? There’s not a right answer at this point, there’s not going to be for a little while. So I just decided to take as much stuff as I could with me, and I’m not really planning on going back except for graduation, because that’s $200 each way. You know, we planned on going on a Jeeping trip out to Utah, and then I’d be there for a week and then I’d head over to Illinois. 

But that was scuttled since, you know, it’s going from no gatherings over 100 and no gatherings over 50, no one over 10 and, at this point, just everything’s been canceled. That’s just how it’s gonna be. So I’m just going to be here from now on, you know. I got settled in, which was nice. I don’t have my PC with me, so I can’t do a lot of the stuff that I want to do. You know, there’s no class or anything, all that stuff is done. 

My big struggle has been, what’s the finances gonna look like for this next quarter? You know and I’m in a situation where I only need one class to graduate. And so I have to figure out, what’s the best financial option for that — for part-time stuff?  

If this happened any other year, I’d still have to deal with being part-time and trying to figure out how much of the scholarship gets taken away if I’m taking less than three classes. I’ve called the Office of Undergraduate Financial Aid, but the guy that I spoke with wasn’t a ton of help, which kind of sucks. And not to mention things are changing constantly. I had $700 in credit in my account that I didn’t know about. I could have withdrawn that, but now I can’t because they have to do all the financial stuff for next quarter and that’s going to get wrapped up in it, I think. But of course that financial stuff is going to be dependent on how many classes I take and how much aid and stuff I get. So that’s really up in the air. 

And then there’s the whole room and board issue, which is, you know, I live in a fraternity, I live somewhere that’s considered off-campus. We pay through Northwestern, and then that goes to our parent organization, which then gets the money. Northwestern just sent out an email saying they’re going to be refunding room and board for people that aren’t there, which is good. But I’m not living on somewhere where Northwestern, I don’t think they have the authority to do that. Our parent organization has said, you know, “Hey, we’re either going to pro-rate you or fully refund you depending on if and when you come back,” which is good. But that still doesn’t solve the question of do we have to pay up front? And if I’m taking less than, you know, a full load, there might not be loans for that, or there might not be a scholarship for that.

I’m trying to get those finances figured out. But obviously, you know, I’m a student, it’s a complicated system. And right now, the answers are still kind of up in the air. So there’s still a lot of anxiety going on there. 

The only thing I really know at this point is that I’m going to have to take a class, because I need that class to graduate. But there’s just so many moving parts. There’s that credit I have in my account, there’s my credit card bill, which I’m trying to pay, there’s $1,200 that is going to be given out that I’m going to receive I think. 

So you see all these things jumbled into each other, and they’re not exactly easy to figure out. So I’m trying to deal with that. But I’m also trying to stay positive and engaged with stuff socially, make sure that despite the fact that I’m in a house, you know, hundreds to thousands of miles away from anyone I’d be normally interacting with, I can still stay engaged. It’s gonna suck not having the ability to just like be around people for the Spring Quarter. But my PC got shipped in today. People have been streaming a lot online, whether that’s gaming or art, which is a really great way to just be around people a little bit more. So I’ve had social interactions, which is good.

Stay-at-home is the order of the day here. And I think people are following that, but there’s still a lot of infection, it’s still not pretty. So, is it worth going out, getting a job, trying to make some money, trying to help support myself and my family versus possibly interacting with someone, contracting COVID(-19), spreading it to my parents? You know, people have died of all age ranges from this thing, so I don’t want to get it, I don’t want to spread it to my parents. So it’s kind of a hard situation. It’s just something — I guess we’ll push forward, try to figure stuff out day by day, you know, news will be coming out.

It does make me more conscious of everything that’s going on, hopefully, you know, less chance of just getting senioritis and completely failing the one class I’m planning on taking and, not that that silver lining is really worth it in any sense of the word, but I don’t know. It’s kind of the life that we have now. Kind of the life that everybody has now. So I’m going to try to stay safe. I’m going to try to stay healthy. I hope you do too. Once again, my name is Joshua Salazar. This is March 27. Friday at 3:28 local time.

MAX LUBBERS: Joshua was only planning to go back to campus for graduation, but things quickly changed. When they found out Spring Quarter and in-person commencement were canceled, they were expecting it. And they ended up just taking one class. While spring wasn’t exactly the quarter they imagined, they tried to make the best of it.

JOSHUA SALAZAR: I’m definitely taking that as an opportunity to just say, “OK, I don’t have a normal senior spring. I still only have one class, I’m still enrolled at Northwestern, but I don’t have the time commitments that I normally would in all of my previous quarters.” I’ve been extremely motivated to start one of my own projects, which is that I’m streaming full-time video games on Twitch.

I have set a schedule for myself and followed that and so I’m streaming 40 hours a week on my own doing that. My Twitch name is JDSInfinity at that corresponding That project that I’ve been doing has been successful so far, I would say.  

I don’t even actually have the feeling like I’m missing out on, you know, social time that was “expected” to be afforded to me, because I’m able to also spend a lot of time interacting with people online.

MAX LUBBERS: And Joshua’s trying to use their platform for more than socializing. With the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many more, Joshua recently dedicated a stream to raising money for the Minnesota Freedom Fund. That’s an organization that pays criminal bail and immigration bonds for those who can’t afford it, including for arrested protesters.

MAX LUBBERS: That’s Joshua streaming. Though they have been sticking to quarantining at home and connecting online, that isn’t true of their entire family. They had to confront a difficult situation when their parents had a barbeque.

JOSHUA SALAZAR: It was frustrating and it put me and my sister in a rough position where it’s like “OK, we broke quarantine.” So do we now have to hole up in our rooms for two weeks and, you know, try to stay away from our mom and dad? Do we just accept the fact that you know, well if they have coronavirus, then we have coronavirus, which sucked and it puts some stress on our relationship. Everything’s been fine. No one’s, I think, come down with anything so, so that’s good. But it wasn’t great. 

There’s an element of trust that you have to have where it’s like, “OK, they’re going to go out and, you know, be who knows where for the weekend.” Is there a risk there? Yeah. Are they taking more of the risk due to the fact that they’re older? They are. Should I be more concerned about something happening to them than something happening to me? Yes. But at the same time, I look at that stuff, and I just think what impact could it have on our hospitals, places that are already overloaded or are nearing their limit. I don’t want to contribute to that at all. I want to be as safe as possible.  

MAX LUBBERS: As far as school, Joshua decided to take one class because it was the cheapest option. Fortunately, some of their financial concerns were smoothed out.

JOSHUA SALAZAR: On account of the housing, room and board was pretty quickly refunded. There was no significant charge there that ended up sticking, which made it a lot, a lot easier. You know, obviously, the couple of days in between trying to there were a couple days or trying to figure it out where we didn’t have all the information that were kind of tense but you know, props to the University and for my fraternity for getting those things worked out and not charging us for the room and board for the quarter we’re not actually using them.

MAX LUBBERS: With virtual commencement so soon, Joshua is reflecting on what comes next. 

JOSHUA SALAZAR: I’m trying to use this time to figure out where I want to be focusing in the future and where I want to use the skills that I’ve learned. There’s a good likelihood that those skills won’t be in my immediate field of study. Which is alright with me, personally, because I have a lot of strengths outside of that field of study. But, yeah, this is going to be a period of introspection and trying to figure out what the best path forward is.

MAX LUBBERS: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Max Lubbers. Thanks for listening to another episode of Digital Diaries. This episode was reported and produced by me, Max Lubbers. The managing editors of The Daily are Sneha Dey and James Pollard. The summer editor-in-chief is Emma Edmund.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @maxlubbers