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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

A changing tempo

1.9%. 3.0%. 6.82%. After enough emails from communications@carleton. edu with the now-familiar salutation, I’ve given up compulsively checking the campus positive rate on the COVID-19 Dashboard and turned my attention to trying to survive the winter term.

Textbooks for classes? Check. Winter gear? Check. Staying hydrated? Maybe. Sleeping? No comment. Pandemic not- withstanding, these three weeks have been hard. And without an A&I to cushion the landing, my schedule is suddenly a snowstorm of classes, extracurriculars and frequent commutes to the Weitz to catch brief windows of violin practice.

Right now, I’m learning vibrato, a technique where you vary the pitch of a note for a fuller sound. You hold your finger down on the string and keep your wrist curved, flexing only your elbow and your fingertip to create the signature tone. Isolating your joints and rhythmically organizing the vibrations is almost more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

The goal is to maintain a continuous, moving rhythm while staying grounded in the note. As soon as I start wiggling my fingers, though, it always feels like the violin is about to fall. I’ve never dropped my instrument, but in clenching my first finger against the neck to compensate for the shift, I’m preventing my other fingers from stretching to their full extent of the vibrato.

I suspect that my habit of holding onto things too tightly bleeds into my life outside the practice rooms, too. As the days, hours and minutes of this term are swirling past me, I’m trying to maintain balance—minimizing potential COVID-19 exposure while extending the possibilities for new discoveries, relationships and opportunities. It’s a tenuous push and pull, and admittedly, I can’t shake the anxiety of sitting next to someone new and worrying that tomorrow, I’ll be a close contact.

Upon returning to campus, I’ve observed that people have re-established their friend groups, their sports and their activities. My motivation (and perhaps my courage) to break into new social circles or try out unfamiliar clubs has been tempered by my trepidation, and perhaps a certain amount of winter-induced ennui. I’m a native Minnesotan; the cold makes us all shrink closer to home for warmth in the sparse hours of daylight.

As a first-year, though, I’m not quite sure where “home” is for me on campus yet. It’s only the second term, but I’m wondering if the “discovery” period of college is starting to slow down, or if it’s only the fact that so many extracurricular activities are withdrawing in-person events due to COVID-19. Regardless, I feel the loss of meeting new people. Zoom just isn’t the same, even if we can see each other unmasked.

I understand the collective caginess, though. Recently, I’ve eaten most of my meals with only two-to-three specific people. I’ve switched to wearing exclusively KN95 masks, and I’m still a little scared to snack in my dorm lounge. I miss seeing people’s faces, and I didn’t anticipate that we’d keep wearing our masks outside to keep our faces warm this term.

Regretfully, I’ve stopped saying “hi” to people as I pass them—partially because I’m not sure if I recognize them after the long break, and partially because I’m always frantically rushing to either one of my regrettably consecutive 2a-3a-4a classes or my job at the Weitz. I don’t have time to stop and chat—or maybe that’s just what I’ve convinced myself.

There are two points of contact between you and the violin, my teacher says. You can let go. Relax your other hand. She grabs it and shakes it a little. My fingers still won’t uncurl.

The new combination of uncertainty and constant vigilance is particular to this term. I can’t shake the feeling of being in violation of an unknown protocol. Even with masks on, sometimes it feels like the administration is breathing down my neck. Still, I oscillate between frustration and gratefulness. Did we really need to lose OneCard access to other dorms? What if I think I’m a close contact of a close contact? What happened to social distancing?

Scrolling through the myriad responses of the CSA COVID-19 survey, I’m even more confused. I advocated for in-person classes and restricted dining. Now, watching people disappear from my classes as they’ve been quarantined, I’m not sure what I want anymore. As a freshman, it’s hard to imagine a “normal” winter term. It occurred to me that even Carleton’s current seniors went into lockdown with only one full year of “normal” college experience. What does a post-COVID world even look like? Hell, I watch pre-pandemic TV now and wonder why they’re not wearing masks.

Most of the time, though, I can’t pause to think about theoretical futures. I’m planning how long it will take for more KN95 masks to ship to me from South Korea—and in the meantime, when I’ll make it over to the Dean’s office to pick up my daily replacement. I’m thinking about the ancient Mesopotamian King Gudea’s toes for my Art History class. And of course, the vibrato.

The metronome will move without my permission. I can’t control the beat; I can’t fight the music, but I can play it. Maybe that’s the best I can do while this tempo is always changing.

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