When I was growing up, my parents would take me to the library and set me to work going through reels of microfiche films to help them work on our family genealogy project. They taught me how to look up census records, and birth and death records, but I became fascinated with all the stuff in the middle.
I wanted to find out about what my ancestors did between those two events. The dates on their vital statistics records announced that they were born and then died.
Their stories showed us that they lived.
For the last few years, I’ve been conducting research for the book I’m writing about my grandmother and my dad and uncle. My favorite sources are the books filled with journal excerpts and interviews - first-person accounts - with people who lived during WWII, one of the most globally impactful time periods in the history of civilization.
We’re in the midst of another one of the most globally impactful time periods in history, and decades from now -- centuries from now -- our descendents will read about this pandemic and they’ll read the statistics showing how many were infected with COVID-19 and how many died of it.
But what the generations after us will want to know are our stories. What our bustling lives were like in the “before,” and how it all came to a grinding halt, shuttering businesses and exposing cracks in a society that, before, many were able to be blissfully unaware of.
There is no doubt: we will be in history books.
We are living history and we have an opportunity - I’d argue a responsibility - to document our stories.
For us to refer back to later, for our kids and their kids, and for the sake of history itself.
Plus, it’s cathartic to journal our thoughts and feelings, and it’ll be great therapy for you and your kids to get all this down on paper, in video, or just whatever blows your skirt up.
That’s why I’m starting what I’m calling The Corona Chronicles Project and I’m inviting you to participate. I’m starting us off with some prompts to get us caught up on the last few weeks, then I’ll share daily prompts to keep us documenting the daily changes.
Don’t get stressed about this. There are no real rules. You can get as fancy or as half-ass as you want.
This is your project. This is our project.
The only thing I stress to you is the importance of doing it now. Before time dulls the edges.
The Corona Chronicles Project: Prompts To Get You Started
First, designate how you’re going to document your experience. In a paper notebook? In a Google Doc? In your Notes app on your phone? A combination? Think about also recording yourself on video or audio answering these prompts, and/or just free-talking about your thoughts: what your daily life was like before the pandemic; what it’s like now; what you’re feeling; how you’re coping.
We need to start by catching up on the last few weeks because, as you know, things have changed on a daily basis for the last month here in the United States.
• What was your daily life like before you’d ever heard of coronavirus or COVID-19? Describe a day in your life.
• Do you remember first hearing of coronavirus/COVID-19? Describe what your first thoughts were of the illness.
• What was the first direct impact of COVID-19 on you and your life? For example, for this one, I would say that one day I heard on the news that other areas in the US were recommending social distancing, and the next day I saw news reports of people buying up all the toilet paper and paper towels.
• What has occurred since? Describe the changes that have taken place since that “first impact” you noted in the previous prompt. Try to include dates, if possible. (Example, on March 15th, I went to brunch with my sis-in-law and our friend. We noticed that another restaurant across the street was closed, when they were usually open. The recommendation at that time for our area was to avoid touching your face and to frequently wash your hands.
That was the beginning of our spring break, but it was supposed to have been the day before Fort Worth-area schools returned from their break, however, they’d been alerted that schools would be closed for two additional weeks. Our school district in the Austin area announced similar closures later that week, stating our kids would return to school on April 4.
I’ll continue with this type of detail until I’m all caught up to today.)
Don’t worry about giving too much detail. What you want to capture is how quickly and dramatically these changes happened and how they impacted your daily life.
Remember to include how you felt during these changes, too. Interject things like, “This is when I started to get scared,” or “This is when we knew this wasn’t going to be easy.”
One of the trademarks of our time in history is social media and technology.
Can you imagine seeing memes from people in 1918 as their families and friends dealt with the impact of the Spanish flu?
• Capture some of the memes from the last 3-4 weeks by taking screenshots and saving them in a folder on your computer, or copy and paste them in a Google Doc and print them if you’re keeping your Chronicles in a paper notebook.
It’ll be interesting to look back and see how these changed over the course of days and weeks as we’ve lived through this experience.
• Lastly for today, document what you’re feeling about the near future. Are you afraid of anything specific with this pandemic? Are there elements of your current daily life that you enjoy? Do you feel guilt or anxiety?
Keep an eye on my social media accounts for daily prompts to keep adding to your journal.
You can also sign up to get emails with journaling prompts, AND if you’re feeling frisky, you can reply to the emails and share your responses with me, which I can then share - with your permission - on social media so we can all experience this project together.
Here’s some additional reading for you, as well as other places you can contribute your stories to, which will help build an invaluable resource for the future.
The Austin History Center’s “COVID-19 Files: Austin Responds To A Pandemic”