The coronavirus is the closest thing to a worldwide shared experience since World War II. Very few areas of the world aren’t being affected in some way by the virus and by COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes. The Rockford Register Star is reaching out to Rock River Valley natives throughout the world to discover how their lives have changed.
DeShara Suggs-Joe, a 2005 Rockford East graduate, is a freelance writer and teaching artist who lives in New York City, the hardest-hit U.S. city in the coronavirus pandemic. She provided her responses April 10.
How did you end up there and in that profession? I lived in New York from the end of 2011 to the middle of 2014. While I was there I took some poetry workshops, and that changed the trajectory of what I wanted to do. I decided to go to graduate school for creative writing.
I lived in California for two years and then moved back to Chicago. While I was in Chicago, I started a position as creative director for a literary magazine called Winter Tangerine. I traveled to New York to teach a workshop at the end of 2018, and then I knew it was time to move back. I moved to New York in February of 2019 and started working in social media at an agency. I also still teach creative writing and work freelance on the side.
When did you first hear about the coronavirus? I believe I first heard about it in early February. People in my office were talking about it, and honestly, I didn't think it was a big deal. That proved to be a big mistake.
When did it begin affecting your life? Well, everything has pretty much stopped in New York City. The streets are pretty bare, which is rare.
I'm a big homebody, so I don't mind being at home. I have plenty of things to work on. I've been trying to keep my mind occupied on positive thoughts. I started yoga and meditation. I also started drawing again.
My community has been on my mind. My heart goes out to the black and brown people who are essential workers as they put their life on the line. I know that this is impacting poor people more than anyone else, so I am praying for them. I've been blessed.
What is life like for you now? Life is okay. I've had to order everything I need. I went out last week for wine and groceries. It was my first time out in like two weeks, and I haven't been out since.
Most things are closed. I have also ordered take-out. Lots of vegan ice cream. I still want to support small businesses. But that's pretty much it.
My birthday is next week, so I am preparing for a virtual party. I was supposed to go to Denver with my friends, but I am settling into the idea that things will never be the same. I believe that's for good reason. Our system was broken, and hopefully, there will be repairs made to the way the U.S. governs and supports us.
What do you miss doing on a daily basis that you never thought you'd miss? I miss happy hour with my friends. I miss going to Ode to Babel (a cocktail bar in Brooklyn). I miss being able to go on a walk without wearing a mask. I miss discovering new restaurants in my neighborhood. I miss the crazy energy you can only find in New York. You can feel new energy here. Things have shifted.
Are there any positives? The positives are that I am still alive and healthy, and my family and friends are still alive and healthy. I am so grateful for that!
I am currently working on two manuscripts, so the extra time allows me to create, but also to just let my imagination run wild and dream. I've been writing some of what feels like my best work so far, and I have been keeping schedule with submitting work to contests and journals.
I am in a year-long manuscript generator so it feels good to have an assignment every week. I am also doing a 30-for-30 challenge for National Poetry Month. Every day in April I write a new poem. So yes, I am in flow with my creative energy, and that feels wonderful.
Have you lost anyone close to COVID-19? I am so grateful to say that I haven't. I pray it stays that way.
How do you think life might change when this is over? I hope people will realize how much we need each other. Capitalism has taught us to only think singular. It has taught us that we have to work so hard for a thin slice of the American pie.
I hope now people are realizing how our government has the means to sustain us if they wanted too. I hope we see that there is more power in "we" than there is in "I."
I hope people use this time to really listen to what their bodies and minds are telling them so they can be the best versions of themselves after them. I see more ease after this is over. It may not happen right away, but I do see people leaning back into an easeful life.
If our economy does crash then that is the fault of the government and not the people. But just think, after every mass tragedy, a movement or renaissance has been birthed. This is our time to reset. We can't come out of this unchanged!
Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent.