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#COVIDStories: Shawn & Jennifer

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I've been having so much with the #frontstepproject in Columbia Heights that I decided to do another project which I am calling #COVIDStories. #COVIDStories just entails doing a socially distant interview with random strangers about the pandemic.


On May 10th, I drove down to the Stone Arch Bridge and sat down at the edge of a long picnic table, holding this sign while wearing a mask:


Turned out the sign was hard to read and people were confused, so the next time I do it, I'll make a better sign. Regardless! I had the pleasure of meeting Jennifer & Shawn:

Shawn & Jennifer slowed down as they walked the trail next to my picnic table, reading my sign inviting them to chat. Settled in, we began to chat! Shawn and Jennifer live in an apartment complex just down the path, near the Stone Arch Bridge area. They just moved in this March, leaving a townhouse twice as large, looking to see if simpler living in the heart of the city might suit them better. They definitely are getting a good sense of what their apartment feels like day in and day out during shelter-in-place. Jennifer says it's weird to be in the heart of the city when the heart is dead.


Shawn feels fortunate as he remains employed as a software consultant for Best Buy. They began to work from home since before the official state order. His contract comes up in mid-July so he is unsure what changes may happen at that time. Meanwhile, Jennifer is a librarian for the Minnesota Historical Society. "I can 'librarian' from a distance," she says and so she has been working from home. She recognizes that many of her coworkers are not as fortunate as 381 of her coworkers were furloughed until July 1. Much of the employment depends on in-person visits which are on a full pause. She feels fairly confident that her job is stable, but it's hard to know since organizations like the Historical Society receive a lot of funding from the government, donations, and from in-person visitors, all which are impacted by the pandemic.


They shared that it hasn't been super terrible for them during shelter-in-place. They've remained fairly healthy as have their friends and family. Their apartment building isn't at full capacity, so they don't run into a lot of other people. Their property manager has been on the ball, making sure to move furniture out of the common areas and making little gift baskets for residents out of toilet paper (earlier on when that was more of an issue). Shawn and Jennifer say they notice that people have not known how to act because they want to be friendly but they also are concerned about keeping a social distance. So they've noticed a lot of people aren't making as much eye contact in public.


As a couple, they've been enjoying this time together. With both of their commutes eliminated, they have more free time than they used to, which they use to go on regular walks together. Though, they share that many of their friends who have children who had been going to school are under a much greater form of stress. Shawn's health has improved a lot during this time, ironically. For one, because of those walks. But also, when not a video call, it's easier from him to get up from his desk, do some stretches, and lift some weights, all activities that would be been a bit more awkward to do in a cubicle farm. Plus, and this was their intention, living in downtown Minneapolis means they just walk more in general


Jennifer and Shawn both share that connecting with coworkers feels a lot different. Video conversations make work harder, less effective, and essentially eliminate any casual conversations that might happen on a short walk to grab coffee. "Everything is screens," says Jennifer, "which makes things more wearing."


Some of the challenges, says Jennifer, is the stress of not knowing whether you're infected or whether the person approaching you in the hallways is. We all have to take these extra precautions in situations we used to take for granted. Jennifer used to shop for groceries early in the morning but that isn't an option anymore because 1) hours have been limited and 2) the early hours are dedicated for immunologically compromised individuals and/or essential workers (and rightly so, she says). That said, all this does make things a lot more complicated. Making sure to wear a mask, stay away from people, and sometimes even waiting in line to get into the grocery store in the first place.


Shawn knows they've been very fortunate. Personally, they've missed out on a few "nice" things they would have enjoyed like more shows at the Guthrie. But he talks about the people in their life who need support. Their parents, older relatives, and the people who live alone. They've been making it an intention to reach out to them with video calls; however, technology problems are a regular issue. Jennifer shares that it's especially difficult to love them in the ways they normally would. Her family lives in north Minnesota and she hasn't seen them in a long time. And those video calls just aren't the same. The day I interviewed Jennifer and Shawn, it was Mother's Day. Jennifer said she really wanted to hug her mom today. Shawn shares that they've enjoyed seeing a lot of inspirational chalk art, thanking our essential workers. The silver linings that are observable in this pandemic are the people. Shawn says this has brought out the best in a lot of people which he finds encouraging. And, of course, they both acknowledge that the opposite it true. They talked about how unfortunate it is that a public health crisis has been made to be something political, used as a cudgel to attack political enemies. Shawn hopes that when history looks back on this, it will talk note of the damage the politicization of the pandemic did and will learn from it to improve for future crises.


And speaking of that inspirational chalk art, that very day, I came across these folx drawing "Happy Mother's Day" as a surprised for their mom who lives in the apartments across the street.


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