Everything about the past month and a half feels exponential in some way. I was warned about college possibly shutting down, told I had two weeks to leave, and then told to essentially get the fuck out right away in the span of three days. Not to state the obvious, but COVID-19 case numbers are currently following an exponential growth pattern, as are other metrics surrounding the disease. Unemployment rates in America have grown exponentially in the past month and a half. Everything around me seems to be escalating rapidly and uncontrollably, and I’m not sure what to do about it. Besides fill up almost all of the paper in my household with graphs and nodes and musings on set theory about contamination and how social distancing is literally mathematically and logically proven to flatten exponential growth.
In case you couldn’t already tell, I think in numbers. It’s probably why I’m a computer science major—something about taking what’s happening out there and representing it in a predictable, controllable way that tends to work is just insanely satisfying to me. Coronavirus ripped control out of my hands, so what else could I do but try to flatten it into some sort of graph with easy-to-understand nodes and edges? My personal desire to exert control over my life manifests itself in this particular, odd fashion, but I think we all have the same underlying desire to channel our frustrations into something we can directly control. And hopefully enjoy.
Enter banana bread. If you haven’t seen an Instagram story about someone making banana bread or, better yet, made it yourself, you aren’t truly living the 2020 quarantine experience. Literally everyone seems to be baking, getting abs, bleaching their clothes, or (my personal favorite) cutting and dying their hair. There has to be some reason besides sheer boredom that we’re all wreaking havoc on our personal belongings and hair whilst baking way too many loaves of bread. I believe it’s because in a world with so much uncertainty, we want a feeling of control over our lives. Even if it isn’t necessarily “productive,” it feels therapeutic to do things with our two hands that have a tangible outcome. Pulling the perfect loaf of banana bread out of the oven gives me that “Ah, yes… I made that” feeling which seems hard to come across these days. I whisked the oat flour and baking powder properly and didn’t over-salt it this time. Even if baking banana bread seems small, sitting here thinking about the feeling I get slicing a loaf and (if it’s possible) getting pseudo-high off the smell of baked goods, it really feels like baking is a way of trying to make sense out of what’s happening around me. It’s this subconscious realization that there’s something in this mess of a world that I can control. Wow.
This morning, I dragged myself out of bed to go for a run on the Hudson River, near where I live. Armed with a bandana around my face, I started toward the walkway but almost turned back and went home once I got to the path, which is usually one of my favorite places to just be alone, run, and think. There were literal hordes of people without masks or any personal protection on. I saw moms with strollers chatting with friends, numerous running clubs, and mostly just people with masks scrunched up in their hands. I ended up going for a run and trying to weave through the crowds without coming into contact with anyone, but the entire time, instead of enjoying my daily outside time, I was paranoid about all of the people taking their masks off. Didn’t they know that it’s actually harmful to take your mask off in public and then reuse it? Why were people gathering in parks when there’s literally a stay-at-home order advising against meeting people outside your immediate quarantine group? Why weren’t they following the goddamn rules?
Long story short, the next day I gave myself highlights and baked pound cake. I thought I was just bored…just finding ways to pass the time. In reality, I was trying to find something I could control. If I think about all of the people out there disobeying rules and probably risking themselves and others it makes me so upset that my brain hurts. I know that even if I stood at the park with a megaphone pleading for people to please just be safe and stop going for picnics with your friends, I know that A. they wouldn’t listen and B. I wouldn’t reach everyone. So the next logical step was to take control over something in my own life. Just to prove to myself that there are still things left in this world which I can manipulate (i.e. my hair). Picking and choosing pieces of hair to bleach felt so good—the sheer concept of something changing because I wanted it to was insanely comforting.
TLDR: bake some fucking banana bread. Make something that makes your brain temporarily forget about the exponential growth pattern and the contaminating set and the million other things. If you can’t control the virus, other people’s behavior, or other factors influencing your life, find little things you can do and just do them.
Illustration by Liz Coulbourn by Teen Vogue