Chris When Covid lockdowns began around a year ago, some people joked that homebodies didn’t even notice. While many young people bristled at being stuck at home, it was thought that homebodies were glad to no longer attend class in person or pretend to have fun at parties. In this episode of Home on the Dot, we discuss how Covid-19 has impacted young people, particularly the experience of being under lockdown in the constant presence of family. As we mark our first year anniversary of living with Covid-19, we hear from NUS Geographer Tracey Skelton, who discusses the disruptions Covid has brought to children and young people, for whom spending much of the past year stuck at home has meant a loss of independence and a feeling that their lives are on hold. We also hear from Zack, a Japanese Studies major and self-proclaimed homebody, for whom lockdown brought on an existential crisis, as home spaces that were previously comforting became weird with his family around 24/7. What do we lose when we are all forced to be homebodies?
This is Home on the Dot. I’m Chris McMorran.
Last week I did something I haven’t done in what feels like forever. I attended an event on campus. Covid-19 pushed everything online at the National University of Singapore over the past 12 months – classes, conferences, public lectures. But as Singapore continues to control the virus and open up step by step from its strictest lockdown in April and May of 2020, socially-distanced events are gradually coming back. Several weeks ago I attended a concert at Marina Bay Sands. A string quartet surrounded by battery-operated candles played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and a handful of other pieces to an audience at one-third capacity. We all entered in pairs after first showing the TraceTogether app on our smartphones and having our temperatures taken. It was all carefully controlled but thrilling to be part of a shared live event once again.
Then last Wednesday, the NUS Center for the Arts opened its annual Arts Festival, and I was invited to be a member of the live on-site audience.
Kamalini Ramdas Hi everyone. Welcome to Critical Conversations 2021. My name Kamalini Ramdas and I’m festival academic advisor for this year’s campus arts festival brought you by the Centre for the Arts at NUS.
Chris The NUS Arts Festival is a truly remarkable celebration of all sorts of arts on campus, including music, theatre, dance, art installations, and more. As its website says: “More than 300 students. 5 shows. 10 months in the making.” The schedule includes critical conversations involving professors who reflect on the theme. This year, it’s “A Question of Time.”
Kamalini Ramdas As I mentioned, we’re at Critical Conversations ….. And these Critical Conversations aim to ask those kinds of questions about time.
Chris I attended the event as much to get out of the house as to learn something new about time. But I was thrilled that one of the presentations spoke so eloquently to the stories we’ve been sharing this past year at Home on the Dot.
As we pass the grim milestone of one year spent with Covid, it is natural to look back: to mourn the loss of so many lives and to reflect on how our lives have changed in both drastic and subtle ways. We might also think about how our experience of time itself has been impacted, particularly by spending so much time at home. From the disruption of daily routines, to the cancelation or delay of rites of passage like graduations, birthday parties, weddings, and proms, Covid time seems to feel and unfold differently.
With the permission of the NUS Arts Festival organizers, we begin this episode of Home on the Dot by sharing some of the thought-provoking remarks given by Associate Professor Tracey Skelton at the Critical Conversations event I attended last week. Professor Skelton discusses what has been lost and gained particularly among young people in the last year, including how so much time stuck at home has interrupted friendships, longed-for events, and the very processes of growing up. As she explains, young people have experienced home in often-confining ways: feeling locked-in and bored, and we all need to go out of our way to provide care for them as they deal with these complicated feelings.
Then we hear from Zack, a final year Japanese Studies major who embodies some of Professor Skelton’s ideas. He shares his own losses during Covid and explains how lockdown made this self-proclaimed homebody feel suddenly out of place and uncomfortable.
Chris Last week’s Critical Conversation at the Arts Festival was called “A Measure of Time in a Covid World”. One of the speakers was Tracey Skelton, a Geographer at NUS who focuses on social justice issues in relation to gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality and disability. She’s also a global leader in the geographies of children and young people. Drawing on that expertise, Prof Skelton focuses on the ways that Covid has rearranged and disrupted the daily lives and longer timelines of young people over the past year. I have lightly edited her remarks for brevity.
Tracey Skelton Using feminist perspective and politics I draw upon my search areas of expertise and children young people’s geographies alongside geographies of gender and sexualities. This intertwining marks the recognition of people who are marginalized or even excluded within many societies, including here in Singapore. And at the same time I celebrate the ways in which other countries such as my home country of the UK, have created and legislated equality, recognition, and inclusion. I mean, not completely, and there’s problems with that, but nevertheless, that’s the kind of process. So in examining time within a covid world, I see strong connections between children, young people, and people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and indeterminate intersexed. For short LGBTQI.
In the context of my research and what I have most thought about in this pandemic at a personal level has been children and young people and those groups who are marginalized and held in a form of immobility and enforced stillness. Children and young people often want to rush through time–grow older, become taller–so that they can enter the world of time where they can be active, do things, get to the next celebratory event or rite of passage and to be someone, i.e. to be a child no longer.
Sadly, so many children and young people have not been able to celebrate or mark those positive longed-for experiences, such as birthdays, first day at school, success in exams, graduating, festive seasons. And they can’t process those or experience those in the usual exciting and anticipated ways.
For marginalized groups such as the LGBTQI community there is an enforced waiting, as they are held outside of society and are not recognized as fully made, rather infantalized, ignored or excluded. Covid-19 has enforced time negatively in many different ways, and waiting negatively is more widely experienced by marginalized groups. Lockdowns, enforced dwelling, spatial restrictions, new working and studying regimes have created time as something that can be causing anguish, annulment, and anxiety.
In the remaining minutes I want to introduce the notion of solastalgia and adapt it to this conversation with particular reference to children and young people.
Solastalgia is a neologism coined by Glenn Albrecht in 2005 to capture forms of emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change. He formed the word by a combination of the Latin word soliquium, meaning “comfort,” and the Greek word root “algia,” “pain”, to put them together: solace and pain. In 2015, The Lancet medical journal included solastalgia as a concept related to the impact of climate change on human health and well-being.
Differentiated from nostalgia, the melancholia or homesickness experienced by individuals when separated from loved homes, solastalgia is the distress that is produced by environmental change impacting on people while they are directly connected to the home environment. Albrecht described it as the homesickness you have when you are still at home and your home environment is changing in ways you find distressing.
Reading about solastalgia, it struck me that this conceptually encapsulated what so many children and young people have experienced during their measures of time in a Covid world. People exposed to environmental change experience negative effects that are exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control over the unfolding change process. And this can be particularly impactful on LGBTQI.
As a result of the pandemic and governmental state management or mismanagement, many children and young people have been confined at home for hours and days, unable to see their friends, elderly relatives, neighbors, and other significant people in their lives. For teenagers the carceral style of dwelling is particularly intense and impactful. At the time of their lives, when they are forging their identities and subjectivities, they are locked in with families, rather than with their multiple significant others: their friends and peers. They experience a form of what I’m calling a friendsickness. And so many can see no end to their containment, restrictions, risks, and their frustrations. So many fear for their futures and who and what they might be able to be or become. Children and young people have become, are bored, missing each other, wishing for the past, daily, quite mundane experiences. Many have lost their independent ability, their laughter, playfulness, amusement, choices, time together, strong friendships, aspirations, and positive expectations. They are at home but the environment around them has changed in ways they find distressing and they’re deeply anxious about their futures, those of their families, communities, and nations.
Solastalgia captures what thousands of people are going through.
Now is the time for care, acceptance, support, encouragement, advocacy, inclusion, and love. They need our provision of the precious quality of time to recover from this damaging pandemic. We should all do what we can to recuperate and recapture their childhoods and youth. We all have to work for hope in positive and inclusive ways for children, young people, and LGBTQI folk. That is what a just and caring society does.
Chris Professor Skelton suggests young people everywhere –not necessarily ALL young people, but young people everywhere — have felt some distress due to Covid. From everyday boredom and the inability to hang out with friends, to lost milestones like graduation and prom, Covid has disrupted young people’s lives.
That has certainly been the case in Singapore, as my students have told me repeatedly, including student-producers of Home on the Dot, who shared their painful stories of cancelled student exchange programs in three episodes earlier this season.
Professor Skelton’s remarks also made me think about the more mundane, everyday ways that time and home have been disrupted for young people. Indeed, for some people, being stuck at home has put their lives on hold at exactly the time when many of them are trying hardest to discover themselves.
To better understand how Covid has impacted the home life of my students, I sat down with Zack, a fourth-year Japanese Studies major at NUS. Home on the Dot listeners first heard from Zack in an episode from last July called “Home in a Rot.” The rot was that being the feeling of wasting away at home during Covid, at a time when Zack, Shaun and Tiffany should have been studying in Japan. Like other milestones of young people, they had been dreaming about and planning the experience for years. Studying in Japan had been one of the reasons they chose Japanese Studies as a major in the first place, and the topic of exchange — when they would go, where they would study, what they would eat, where they would travel while in the country – had framed their conversations since they first became friends. Having that experience permanently removed from the timelines of their lives was devastating.
But beyond the loss of his exchange experience, I wondered how Zack was handling the new normal imposed by Covid. Back in June, I asked him to write about what it was like to be stuck at home. He quickly sent me a four-page reflection, which included some keen insights on how his home had suddenly felt foreign to him once his family members stayed home all day. Instead of just meeting for dinner, he and his parents and aunt were suddenly running into each other 24/7. There was suddenly no place to hide. Professor Skelton’s presentation was a wake-up call: a reminder of Zack’s essay and an opportunity for me to see it in a new light. So I sat down with him the other day, to ask him to reflect on his essay.
Chris The inspiration for emailing you just now was on Wednesday the Center for the Arts has its ongoing annual event right now and they had this great session with a professor from philosophy and a professor from geography talking about “a measure of time”.
Chris And how covid has changed our perception of time, our relationship between time and space and it reminded me of some of your essay. Because at the start of the essay, you define yourself as a “homebody”. Why did you call yourself a homebody?
Zack There’s two parts to it I think. First part is homebody is a bit derogatory, a little bit I think?
Chris It has that conversation, right.
Zack And then the ironic thing is…
Chris Someone who’s almost bored, yeah.
Zack Right, exactly. And now everybody’s thought of as a homebody now. That’s the ironic thing.
Zack And the other part was people think that because you like being home all the time this is an easy period, like it’s not any different.
Chris Right, like Covid and the Circuit Breaker will be easy for you since you’re a homebody. But that wasn’t the case.
Zack Yeah, I didn’t feel it and that was some of the things I was writing about as well, yeah.
Chris I mean you said you’re a homebody in that you don’t, you don’t like a lot of students or like some students who want to go out all the time.
Chris So what do you do when you’re at home and why do you feel comfortable being at home?
Zack I think it’s just… Why do I feel comfortable? It’s hard to say, I just do and as to what I do, I guess my hobbies include a lot of sedentary activities, watching TV, watching movies, reading, stuff like that, playing games, so that’s… So, anyway, it’s not that I particularly want to be at home but the things I enjoy doing end up being at home…
Chris Are at home, okay.
Chris You did also mention that you like going out to movies, you like going to the cinema.
Zack Yeah, I do like watching movies, I like playing sports. I don’t think I’m, you know, what people associate with the homebody.
Zack I don’t really see that in mind.
Chris But there are certain things you like to do at home.
Chris Well, that you like to do and they happen to be easiest to be done at home.
Zack Yeah, that’s right, those are my feelings to it.
Chris But I think the other thing that was interesting about your essay was this connection between time and space. Specifically you said that during Covid, when it started, suddenly these spaces that had been uninhabited in your home or filled with people.
Chris Of course, those are your family members [laughter] but it changed the day.
Zack It did… And it’s not something I thought about until I started writing it.
Zack And then I realized, yeah, it feels weird being at home. It’s still, you know, so…
Chris You’re frequently at home, so it’s not abnormal but suddenly when everyone else is home, then it feels weird being at home.
Zack Exactly. Counter-intuitive, but that’s how it works.
Chris So who… So I remember from the essay but for the listeners, remind me who’s normally at home, who’s normally not at home, where is everyone in a normal, in a normal pre-Covid world.
Zack Right, normal pre-Covid, my dad works and my aunt works.
Chris And you live with your aunt?
Chris So you live with who?
Zack Well, my parents and my aunt, that’s all.
Chris Right, and your aunt is your brother or your father’s…
Zack My father’s eldest sister.
Chris Yeah. So the four of you share a house.
Zack Yeah. A normal weekday, of course they’re working so they’re not around during the day, come back at night and then the nighttime of the weekday is the… So everyone at home time. The weekends…
Chris Quite different, right. It varies a lot.
Zack Yeah, nothing much to say about that. But the weekdays, for sure, at 2PM if I don’t have a class or if it’s the holidays and then… My mom, my mom’s not even usually in the living room. She’ll be in the… Because she likes music so she will be in the study because there is a piano so really it’s quiet.
Chris Like the space is yours, it’s quiet and so you’re used to those rhythms, those routines. And Covid brought everybody back.
Zack [Laughs] Everybody back and you know, this is kind of a funny thing but I don’t know why but there’s only three chairs in the living room, [laughter] even though it’s four of us.
Zack Yeah, and not only that there’s two chairs by the side and one in the middle. Nobody likes the middle chair. [Laughter] I don’t know why we have it actually, but so… That’s sort of like the “you snooze, you lose”, you know, so I… I’m always at home so I don’t ever get that chair. But sometimes now I have to sit in that chair, I don’t even want to sit in that chair so I go somewhere else.
Zack And it’s weird being somewhere else.
Chris That’s an interesting idea where even… You’re inside the home so you would think that every space, every room you will be comfortable in but…
Chris Having other people there at different times of the day, even the different chairs can throw you off your comfort.
Zack A lot in fact, I didn’t realize how much you threw me off until I started writing and realizing, yeah.
Chris Yeah so okay, so a lot of times has passed since you wrote the essay, have you gotten used to the new routines but does it still feel weird?
Zack I think definitely I have gotten much more used to it. My dad goes to work, not working much at home either, although my aunt is struggling to find a job.
Chris Oh you mentioned that her contract was not renewed.
Zack That’s right, so now she’s doing a bit of semi-paid semi volunteer, so she’s been getting busy. So it’s not completely gone, the weirdness. It’s more like I’m getting used to it. I think my aunt and mom also, I think when Covid hit they all stayed around the living room. I’m not sure why but I guess that’s just how it ended up. But now that a bit more normalcy has returned, my aunt is doing her own thing, my mom is doing her own things so I sometimes have the living room to myself again.
Chris But not the middle chair.
Zack Not the middle chair. I like the right chair.
Chris So I guess your situation… I mean, you know, you’re like a lot of students that were suddenly thrown out of your normal rhythms, stuck at home, taking classes at home. I mean that happened last semester and now, I know but you were in a really unique situation because of the odd way that the school calendars work. So you’re planning to go on exchange to Japan which operates on a calendar that starts in April.
Chris That’s the start of the first semester and in order to accommodate their schedule you had to take no classes from basically December, at the end of one semester of you and then you were just bored waiting at home in January, February, March. And finally in March you were supposed to go but then suddenly on your birthday…
Zack On my birthday.
Chris It was announced that no Singapore students would be studying overseas and therefore your exchange was cancelled. Which meant you had wasted January February March.
Zack [Laughs] But except January February last didn’t feel wasted because you were looking forward to something.
Chris Right. Did you feel like that time like, how did you spend that time?
Zack So… Really relaxed I think. Getting the administrative things in order. Getting to crash a few classes here and there in NUS for fun. It was really, in a way you could call it the best time. You get to take classes without the grades.
Chris You also mentioned that you were creating tabs online of places you wanted to go…
Zack Yeah, still have it by the way.
Chris Restaurants you were going to eat at. You still have it?
Zack It’s something I do. I didn’t really do specifically for the exchange, it’s just something I do. I keep tabs open all the time.
Chris Oh like, “I’m gonna visit this place someday”.
Chris So there was that buildup of anticipation.
Chris In those months and then suddenly yeah, well, yeah. So do you think time functions differently before the cancellation of exchange and after the cancellation of exchange?
Zack Definitely, I mean your mental state, or my mental state was completely different pre- and post- cancellation news, even if it turned out, actually the things I was doing well was similarly maybe. I think again because like I said, I spend a lot of time at home and so the home time actually probably didn’t differ that much but the mindset I had was totally different….
Zack And that structure my experience as well.
Chris Yeah, how was it different?
Zack For sure time didn’t pass slowly [laughs] because before it’s like every day it’s faster towards…
Chris Getting close to the flight.
Zack The big trip. And after that, there’s no destination.
Chris Right. So when the new semester started in August, how did you adjust to this new way of learning?
Zack Well, man I was really so unhappy [laughs]. You know, first of all I am not a technology person. So this whole zoom thing was like, “Wah, do I have to do this, why am I like doing this it’s terrible”. I did think I got used to it, but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it particularly. And I think for for me, I didn’t really have time to mope about because I was suddenly going into arranging my module planning. I didn’t even have time to mope about this new mode of learning, just jump straight into it.
Chris Right. 4000 Level modules are more difficult, more reading, more thinking so you just had to tackle it.
Zack I guess that was good in a way, I didn’t have to keep being unhappy.
Chris No time for it [laughter].
Zack Just had to do it, keep doing.
Chris Did anything change in your home life, like relationships during that time?
Zack For sure I didn’t have the same feeling of time and home space not being foreign anymore because now I had to be in my room to do the Zoom a lot. So I think my free time was cut in half of course.
Zack So… In a way maybe actually if I didn’t have class, I would have still felt that way but I because I was occupied now I didn’t feel that way, possibly.
Chris Yeah. Wait, sorry, can you say it again? If you didn’t have class you would feel what way?
Zack If I didn’t have classes I would continue to feel that home was a foreign space. Time was dragging…
Chris Oh right.
Zack But I was occupied.
Chris So you were too busy to worry about how your home feels.
Zack Yeah, or either that or it could that the rhythm of life went back a little bit to normal.
Zack Yeah, because sometimes I have class from 12 to 6, so you know, I won’t be occupying those spaces anyway.
Chris Right. If there’s one thing that you would want anyone to understand or that you need to explain about your experience of being stuck at home during Covid, what would it be?
Zack I think it kind of goes back to the point you were talking about in the beginning, you know. Everyone is gonna have a very… Really going to find it tough. Even if you’re not the type that loves to go out and things like that or even if you’re not bored in the sense that you’re doing things, it’s still a completely different way of living and experiencing time. Yeah, I think that’s the main thing I would say.
Chris There’s a running joke about how homebodies haven’t even noticed Covid. Or that since they prefer to be at home anyway, being in lockdown is really no burden. But even for young people like Zack who prefer to spend time at home, the past year has brought stress and sadness at all that has been lost. How will young people look back on these strange Covid times in five or ten years? Will the missed rites of passage like graduations, proms, and study abroad, not to mention the time to just hang out with friends, continue to loom as large in their lives as they do now? Or will this time fade into memory as a minor speed bump? Finally, following Professor Skelton’s suggestion, how can we care for young people so they can thrive in the uncertain months ahead?
This episode was written and produced by Zack and me. Our sound engineer was Stanley Chow, with assistance from David Chew. Thanks again to Tracey Skelton and the NUS Arts Festival team, including the host of the Critical Conversations, Kamalini Ramdas. The Arts Festival is hosting two more Critical Conversations in March. The March 3 event, titled Reframing the Past, features visual artist Debbie Ding and NUS Historian John Solomon. The March 10 event, called Telling our Stories, features film-maker Sherman Ong and NUS Communications and New Media scholar Sarah-Tabea Sammel. Both webinars are open to the public, as are the many student-led shows and events that will run from March 19th to April 16th. To find out more about the free programs please visit nusartsfestival.com/
This week’s shout out to a faithful listener goes to Josef, a fellow Geographer who recently emailed me about our episode on home-buying and shared some of his own home-buyer woes.
You can find links to Professor Skelton’s research, the NUS Arts Festival, and news articles related to today’s theme on our homepage: tinyurl.com/homeonthedot
You can also find us on Facebook. Just search for Home on the Dot. And finally, thanks for listening.