As we passed the year-mark for the pandemic, I went back to my journals from early 2020 to see if I could find when I first mentioned the coronavirus. As best as I can tell, it was on February 24, 2020 when I mentioned, at the very end of that day’s entry: “Stock market down 1,000 points on coronavirus fears.”
On March 5, 2020, I wrote, “I’m not sure what to make of the coronavirus . There is so much conflicting information that I find myself relying on a combination of common sense and my knowledge of science.” I noted that there had been 11 death from the virus thus far. “I keep drawing mental comparisons,” I wrote, “to the outbreaks of Yellow Fever and smallpox during Revolutionary times.”
I typically fill a 100-page volume of my journal (written in large Moleskine Art Collection Sketchbooks) in 5-6 months. But I filled an an entire volume in the period between February 6 – June 25, 2020 alone, the second shortest period after the very first volume of this incarnation of my journal. And much of what I wrote was about the virus.
As someone who is fascinated by journals and diaries, I’ve often considered them to be a source of untapped personal analytics and other data. Before iPhones and FitBits kept track of our movements and heart rates, diaries and journals, letters and other correspondence were a rich source of this (implied and inferred) data. Collective war letters provide a different perspective to war than what a history book might have to say about them, for instance. And so I wonder what kind of data is stored within the journals of people around the globe when it comes to the COVID pandemic.
March 11, 2020: “News of the Coronavirus is getting more serious with ‘social distancing’ the new watchword of the day. It does’t stem the outbreak but it does make its impact on resources more manageable. I think the outlook now is something like, ‘be diligent, but plan on getting the virus.'”
March 12, 2020: “NBA has suspended its season and NCAA will be playing without crowds. MLB has suspended spring training and is delaying the start of the season at least 2 week.”
March 13, 2020: “The most dire predictions of the virus’s spread sees as many as 170 million people in the U.S. contracting the virus–and between 400,000 to over 1 million deaths from it.” On that day, just a year ago, we canceled out planned trip to Florida.
March 15, 2020: an entire page in my journal is dedicated to a list of all of the stuff I bought at the store to stock up on because there were rumors that shortages were coming. The list is 2 columns long.
March 16, 2020: we had our first Zoom call with my parents, brother and sister, something that evolved into a weekly Sunday afternoon affair this is still going on today.
March 18, 2020: all three of our kids began distance-learning, something that continued for the remainder of the 2020 school-year, and, for my son at least, for the 2020-21 school year as well, until just last week, when he finally went back into the classroom for the first time in a year.
I’ve heard of people who say they’ve burned their journals (or will burn them before they die). I’ve never understood that, but I guess people keep journals for different purposes. I think of the information we might have lost if John Adams or Leonardo da Vinci had burned their journals. I’ve always wanted a record of things I’ve done, even the mundane things, so that I could look back on it. For me, my journal is another reference book, like dictionary or almanac. I also thought it would make a fascinating read for my children and their children. I imagine my kids telling their kids about living through the pandemic, the way my grandfather talked about lie during the Great Depression. All I had from my grandfather were some vague memories and axioms about this time in his life. I would have been fascinated to read about what his day-to-day life during those times, if only he’d kept a journal.
This is something at least my kids will be able to do, if they wanted to.