Here’s a time capsule of some of Harrisonburg’s COVID-19 time capsules

By Bridget Manley, publisher

A doodle from Alyssa Davis is one of many ways people around Harrisonburg have been recording in various ways the changes to life amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Logan Campbell was a senior at JMU this spring, getting ready to embark on a project that combined her love of sports and journalism as one of her last classes before graduation. 

“We were going to be doing a documentary…on a few of the football players and their journey to getting drafted and the NFL draft,” Campbell said. “I was really excited about that. This was a class I’d been dying to take all four years, so I was like ‘OK, this is it, this is my time to finally do the one thing that I’ve been dying to do.”

While on Spring Break, Campbell and her friends learned that JMU would shift classes online for several weeks before it ultimately cancleed all in-person classes for the spring semester.

The COVID Diaries podcast, which JMU students produced this spring, is available on Spotify.

She began to think: How would she follow the players? Would there even be a draft? It started to sink in that her dream, the in-depth project she’d been planning, wouldn’t be feasible. 

Campbell and the rest of the electronic news production class switched gears and began a series of podcasts documenting in real time the effects of COVID-19 on everyday life. 

Without realizing it, they became one of the many people who harnessed creativity and storytelling to document life during unprecedented times. 

And while the long-term effects of the current crisis are still unclear, these creators are curating a kind of time capsule for themselves, their friends and family and future generations who might inevitably ask, “Grandma, what was Coronavirus like?”

A Doodle A Day

Alysia Davis has always been an avid journal keeper. 

Just before the pandemic, she bought a travel journal by author and illustrator Mo Willems. So when the coronavirus hit and social distancing took hold, she thought, “Why not do a doodle a day?” 

She didn’t think she had the time to sit and process everything happening to her and to the world, but one doodle a day sounded like a good way to remember what she’d done.

“Every day sort of seems the same, but there usually is something about the day that makes it a little bit more distinctive,” Davis said.  “Like the time that you know someone stops at the end of your walk and says ‘hi’ and you actually get to, you know, speak to another human being for a second or or whatever,” she added, laughing. 

Some are more serious —  such as when a good friend and her daughter had to self-quarantine for 14 days because of exposure. And Davis’s own child spiked a fever. That day, Davis drew a thermometer. 

Other days are lighthearted. A laptop with a Zoom call. The plants getting ready to bloom. Home improvements that she’s been able to do with the time at home. 

Cheese balls starred in another doodle by Alyssa Davis.

Every night, she will watch TV with the family and doodle her picture of what the day held. Davis feels like the doodles help process what’s happening inside her head and outside in the world.

“I feel like the only thing that’s helping me get through all of this weirdness is being creative,” Davis said. “So like I have been painting everything I own. I’m currently making a basket I made a full out of recycled magazines….I’ve been having like weird stress-like COVID dreams every night. They’re very vivid and weird, and so obviously there’s stuff rattling around in my brain and I feel like this is definitely a coping mechanism.”

She’s encouraging her daughter to write a journal to keep a memory of this time, knowing that one day she might want to look back and remember what life was like. 

“I [said] ‘you know, this is a weird time in your life,’” Davis said. “When I was a kid, one of those defining moments with like the challenger explosion, you know, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. And so, this is definitely going to be one of those defining moments for our kids.  I don’t know if she’ll ever want to go back and look at this stuff, but at least you know there it might be something interesting for her down the line to kind of have a record of at least what I was thinking and what I kind of took away from each day.”

The Nelson News

If you live on Nelson Street in Harrisonburg, you might be one of the lucky few who have been subscribed to the latest publication in Harrisonburg — The Nelson News

The paper is the brainchild of 8-year-old Latham Copeland, who has been delivering his publication on a weekly basis to his neighbors, giving them details about what’s happening on the street, with analysis, weather and even a weekly joke. 

Copeland is a one-kid interviewer, writer, curator, editor, and distributor of The Nelson News, often engaging neighbors and crowdsourcing for articles and putting the printed copies on the doorsteps of each neighbor early in the morning. He even puts an individual touch on each. 

“I had to print them out, and then I had to color the cartoons,” Copeland said. 

Copeland wants to be a reporter when he grows up, in addition to perhaps being a scientist and a meteorologist.  

“[The news] is really important,” Latham said. “People get news so they can know about stuff. The news is important at all times.”

Copeland likes the idea of his newspaper as a time capsule of current life and thinks he will save them too look back later and see what he reported. 

Copeland’s mother, Cathy, said she’s been excited to see him blossom into the neighborhood reporter, and she tries to help guide him in his pursuit, even lending a hand as graphic designer. 

“He’s always been very inquisitive and looking around the world trying to figure it out,” Cathy Copeland said. “He’s also an oldest child, in that he likes to tell people how things can go in the world,” she added, chuckling. 

Cathy Copeland is also keeping her own kind of COVID diary, using her blog to humorously record her daily life as working mother with two kids at home during quarantine. Using the metaphor of a captains log on a ship, she weaves in the lighthearted craziness of being trapped at home with the ones you love.

A sample:

“To me, it was almost cathartic to be able to write about it,” she said. “Because most of the things I write about are winsome and what what went wrong that day. It was a useful attempt for me to try to reframe my world, because I can often see the glass half empty.”

Pandemic Poetry

Sarah Gorman, a literacy and humanities teacher at the Great Oaks Academy, which is housed at Thomas Harrison Middle School, assigned an ekphrastic poetry assignment to students based a combined effort of NPR and Kwame Alexander, NPR’s poet in residence. They selected two paintings: Kadir Nelson’s “Heatwave” and Salvador Dali’s “Young Woman At A Window,” and asked people to write poems. 

Gorman asked her students to make three observations of each painting and write their own poems about quarantine or the virus inspired by the art or their own experiences. 

Gorman is currently working on combining the poems into one large project, as a kind of time capsule for their class. Some of the work of the middle school students included: 

“6-feet,” by Ransom Satterfield 

What I’ve got is a brain                                                                                                                                     
I can listen and stay 6-feet apart 
But some people just can’t
And it’s driving me insane
When my Nana goes shopping they don’t have wipes for the cart                                                            And without those people will catch the virus and fall apart
We must take these precautions seriously
If you wanna stay alive
People are dying can’t you see
So I think you can handle just going on a drive   

“What Summer Was Going to Be,” by Gabriella Morales

Finally kids out of school
Ready to jump in the cold pool
The hot sun beaming down on all the kids
Families out having a good time
And beaches full with different religions and races all special and unique
Amusement park lines as long as can be
All this happens in summer  

“Quarantine,” by Brando Flores Menjivar

Watching through the window
Looking up at the clouds 
But now looking up at the roof from below
Staying inside and getting your work done
Being bored your funniness is gone
It’s also good because the virus spreading slow.

“Social Distancing,” by Gabriella Morales 

Right now we are going thru hard times
And it feels like we are in a cage 
And don’t have a key
The best thing right now is to
Stay inside and don’t worry  
Because everything will be fine

The COVID Diaries

For the JMU students in Logan Campbell’s class, as soon as it became apparent that producing long-form journalism using a television studio was no longer possible, JMU Professor Ryan Parkhurst revamped their assigned project into a podcast series.

“And he [said], ‘this is your documentary on you guys, and your lives and the people around you.’ So, each week it was a new theme and it was all surrounding corona(virus) and different individuals that have been impacted by this disease,” Campbell said. 

One episode, “What We Lost,” looked at things each student was mourning. For Campbell, that was the documentary she’d been excited to produce. She spoke with JMU football player Ron’dell Carter for the episode, and the two discussed how he had been preparing for the NFL draft (which was done online this year), and how he felt when that experience was taken from him. While Carter went undrafted, the Cowboys signed him

In Campbell’s favorite episode, “What We Gained,” she talked to her neighbors back at home. Since the pandemic, Campbell said her neighborhood has gotten closer than ever, and more people are spending time outside, going on long talks and getting to know each other. 

Campbell said she believes the experience is a snapshot of what it was like to be a college student in the time of the coronavirus pandemic. She also said the experience was therapeutic to see and hear different stories and perspectives from people going through the same experience. 

“I just think it was such an eye-opening experience talking to so many different people with that come from different backgrounds and do different things in their lives,” Campbell said, “and how we all our lives have all changed.”

— Assistant editor Randi B. Hagi contributed reporting to this article.

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