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.


Evangeline Whitlock, a 2001 Keith School graduate, is a visiting assistant arts professor at New York University-Tisch School of the Arts. She also is a professional stage manager, working on Broadway and off-Broadway productions across the country.


How did you end up in New York City and in that profession? Prior to living in New York, I was living in San Diego where I’d gone to graduate school. I was working at the regional theaters as a freelance stage manager. I ended up working with a lot of New York-based artists and formed professional connections and friendships. One director called me in early 2013 and said, "I’m doing a show in New York this summer, and I want you to be my stage manager, and you are moving here."


When did you first hear about the coronavirus? This is such an interesting question to me because the pandemic is not like other major events that have occurred in my lifetime where I can remember exactly what I was doing and exactly where I was.


I would say when news first started reporting on the unknown illness in December. Then I remember a text conversation between a friend in early January discussing what was going on because we were both doing a lot of travel for work. I remember she was really worried about it.


When did it begin affecting your life? I can’t pinpoint ONE moment in time on which everything started shifting. I actually thought of an exercise I did in my journal several weeks ago. I remember thinking to myself, as days slid into weeks and it became clear that no endpoint was imminent, that I should sit down and write a timeline of events for myself so I wouldn’t forget it.


I actually just want to share an entry here.


March 16, 2020:


"Wow. The last time I wrote was 19 days ago and the world has changed dramatically since then. We are in the middle of a pandemic. A global health crisis that is completely changing the way we live and our way of life. My job has moved to remote teaching entirely. They say until April 20, but it’s going to be later. I am trying to think now about how I am going to do this all and make this all work. I will be honest, I don’t really know how. Somehow we must make it through this. We simply must. We will weather the storm. This is just going to be a very very very long storm."


What is life like for you now? Life has gotten both simpler and more complicated all at once. I still have a job to do, so that provides some routine to my life right now. I have students and colleagues who depend on me and to whom I must stay accountable, which provides structure and also inspiration and motivation in my own life.


My partner, David Murrell, and I are trying to be really conscious about minimizing our trips to the store. We ask ourselves, "do we really need that thing right now or can we wait?"


That’s been a huge shift in my mentality. Asking myself daily, "what is really essential?"


That’s hard because my profession, theater, has been deemed "non-essential" right now. I know in my heart that isn’t true, but these adjectives of essential/non-essential really make you think on very deep levels.


One of the greatest things about New York is being able to get whatever you want whenever you want it. Several years ago, my dad came to visit and it was the first time he was spending any significant time in New York. We had been out to see a show and got back to my apartment late, but we were both really hungry and decided to order some food.


I asked my dad what he was in the mood for, and he said, "Well, what is open this late?"


I said, "Dad. Tell me what you want. Anything in the world you want to eat, it can be here in about 30 minutes flat."


I think about that story because now we don’t have that.


I love my little neighborhood and there are so many delicious restaurants and friendly bars where I know the owners and the bartenders and they know what I like to order. And I’ve watched them move first to takeout only, and then some close completely. A few of them have even nailed up boards over their windows and doors.


A few weeks ago, I dropped off my laundry at the place I’ve been going to for years. The owner asked if I could please pick up that afternoon, instead of the next morning like I usually do. I looked at him and asked "are you closing?" He said yes. I literally started crying. For some reason that was like a "last straw" type feeling.


The good news is that, a few days later he re-opened on limited hours and was staying closed every other day for cleaning. And the really good news is that when I went in last week, he said he was hoping to get back to being open every day soon. That laundromat is like a little beacon of hope for me. Every day that my laundromat is able to stay open is a good day and one day closer to some semblance of being through the worst of this.


I know that sounds really strange, but what it is really driving home for me is that there are so very many things and people and places that comprise a community. We are all interconnected in this beautiful web of humanity and society and my little neighborhood is a microcosm of that.


We all impact each other. I spend money to have clean clothes, and that means the owner is able to put food on his table for his family. And that means that there was someone at a store who had to sell that food to him. And a truck driver who had to deliver the food to the store. And a farmer who grew the food. And on and on and around and around.


Now, we are being forced to confront both the beauty and the fragility of that web. And that connectedness means that every single one of us has to do our part so the world can heal right now.


Our neighborhood farmers market is still operating, so we go there on Saturday mornings for our vegetables and our apples and our dairy. We have a meal-planning session on Sunday afternoons so that we don’t just aimlessly graze all week.


We try to order takeout twice a week to keep our favorite neighborhood restaurants going. We take long walks on weekends but even those are difficult here because of how many people there are and how narrow the sidewalks are.


David and I play nightly games of Boggle to keep our brains active and to keep ourselves from mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds on our phones. We have started a little weekly play-reading series where we read plays out loud with each other.


What did you miss doing on a daily basis that you never thought you’d miss? You know, I feel really good being able to answer this question by saying, there’s nothing that I "never thought I’d miss."


When it was announced that we were having remote classes, I KNEW I would miss seeing my students in person. I cried on our last day of class.


When it was announced that churches were closing, I KNEW I would miss going to mass each week.


When it was announced that restaurants and bars were closing, I KNEW I would miss sitting across the counter from my favorite bartenders chatting about the week.


When nail salons and my hair place were shuttered, I KNEW I would miss the monthly indulgences of manicures and pedicures and haircuts.


There’s actually not a single thing that I can think of that I say, "huh. I didn’t realize I’d miss that."


The governor of New York is starting to talk about reopening parts of the economy. How do you feel about that?


I admire Governor (Andrew) Cuomo’s leadership. His daily press conferences are honest and direct, and at the same time inspirational and hopeful. He has assembled a team of experts and is working with that team and with area leaders to make the best and most informed decisions for our state and city.


Have there been any positives? Have you been using your time to finish a project, learn something new, reconnect? I have been very focused on my students and my colleagues, and trying to deliver the best version of my classes and course content remotely that I can. That’s taken up a lot of time and brain space, and I realized that there’s not really "extra time" for me right now, because I still have a job to do. My job has always been a priority in my life, and it doesn’t cease to be so now because the physical location in which I do it has changed.


I have started a daily writing series called "Moment of Pause" in which I send a short meditation on what it means to be in a moment of pause to my family and a few select friends, usually inspired by some image, or song, or reading that I’ve done. That’s been a nice ritual and touchstone for me.


This time has led me to read about and learn new things in addition to deeply reflecting on life as we know it, and life as it may be in the future, and life as it has been in the past. I have been making a lot of different types of lemonade.


I think it’s a subconscious thing; I am making literal the metaphor of "when life gives you lemons…" Also there is something very therapeutic about the physicality required to hand-squeeze juice out of 10 lemons.


This week I switched from winter spiced lemonades to a summer lemonade, and made a "mint lemon-limeade." A handful of mint leaves muddled with ¼ cup of sugar. Squeeze 4 lemons and 3 limes (about 1 cup of juice) and mix in with the mint/sugar. Add about 7 cups of cold water, and another ¼ cup of sugar (or more to taste). Chill, and serve over ice.


Have you lost anyone close to COVID-19? I haven’t yet, and for that I feel incredibly grateful every day. I have one friend who was very ill, but she is on the other side of the worst of it, thankfully. The degrees of separation, for all of us, are starting to become less and less.


How do you think life might change when this is over? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows. What I DO know is that it will change. I feel perhaps better equipped for that change than others because I live a life and work in a profession that is all about accepting change, accepting impermanence, being okay with "certain uncertainty."


Every day I wake up healthy is a huge day right now. I don’t take that lightly. I don’t take that for granted, not for a second. My deepest hope is that we will come through and out of this better individuals, a better society, and more equipped to truly take care of each other.


Alex Gary is a freelance correspondent