We are living in a historic moment. The Minnesota Historical Society is collecting and preserving Minnesotans’ stories related to the COVID-19 health crisis so future generations can learn how the pandemic has impacted our lives. We invite you to read a sampling of these stories here and to share your story.
I'm a singer/songwriter and mother of two teenagers, living in a relatively small house in St. Paul. The space where I write and create music is the very center of the house—the one room that everyone needs to walk through to get anywhere else on the main floor. My routine is (was) that at least two afternoons a week, while the kids are at school and my spouse is at work, that space is my studio for songwriting and recording.
Now that everyone is home all the time, I've lost my studio (not only the space, but also the time when I could be alone in it).
[Listen to a “Slowly Exploding,” a song written by Julia, recorded with her husband and daughter while staying at home].
I'm adjusting and enjoying having my musician family members more available to play with me, but I don't feel quite like me. I miss playing live shows. There are multiple opportunities to stream performances from my house, which I have and am taking, but they aren't the same (and figuring out the technology to get good audio quality has been stressful).
One wonderful thing that's come out of all this is that I've grown closer to an international songwriting group I'm a part of, called Song A Week (www.songaweek.org). Members of the group write a song each week and share our songs with each other, listening and supporting. I've been a member since 2016, and it was the pandemic that prompted us for the first time to start doing video meetings as a group. A different lineup each month plays two songs each for each other, and we take some time to chat during and afterward. Many of these people I'm likely never to meet in person, and it's been a joy to feel more connected to them during this time.
The other members of my family each have their own feelings and issues - deep sadness that brings tears almost daily for my sixteen-year-old daughter, daily snuggles, and maybe biweekly tears for my thirteen-year-old son, and struggles with depression for my extroverted spouse. At the same time we are drawing closer as a family, picking up new activities (long bike rides, evening walks with the dog, card games, sitting around and just talking . . .), and getting things done like cleaning out the garage and home repair projects and gardening. My daughter loves to sew, and she voluntarily made masks for each person in our family, and then went on to make thirteen more which we just donated at our local fire station this past weekend. I feel like we are very lucky to be doing so well during this time, knowing there is so much suffering on so many levels. This pandemic has forced many of us to slow down, some for the first time in a long time, and face our own mortality.
~ Submitted by musician Julia Bloom
My husband and I are both small business owners, and I while that has prepared me for a lot of economic uncertainty for us personally, I never imagined this level of having no clue what comes next for a restaurant and a print shop. I am trying to just focus on the day in front of me, rather than look too far ahead, because I start to feel like I am drowning.
I have also started a project - a hand type-set letterpress newspaper that I am producing weekly. It is composed of 10-word or less stories submitted by folks around the country about how they are experiencing this pandemic. I mail them out weekly to subscribers. Having this project gives me focus and also is helping me feel like I am documenting this experience in a physical, tangible way.
~ Elana Schwartzman
Nana and I moved to an apartment together in Uptown in the first week of March. We heard rumors of a virus but did not think it would be something that would affect our daily lives. A week after moving, things around us started to close such as restaurants and amenities in our apartment. Through the initial weeks of quarantine, we kept ourselves busy by designing, modeling, and 3D printing various items for our new apartment such as key holders and utensil organizers.
While exploring 3D printing forums for new ideas on projects, we saw a number of community members try to design various PPEs to help with the current crisis. We decided we also wanted to help. We initially thought to design our own face masks, however determined that since we would be donating to hospitals, there might be strict guidelines on what can be approved.
However, while researching, we saw that the NIH website had a section for clinically approved 3D face shield designs. We immediately printed a couple. Next, we had to decide where to donate shields that we were planning to print. We thought of North Memorial as Rinku has a personal story with them and volunteered with them for a number of years. Nana found an email link for COVID-19 donations for North Memorial and reached out to them. We got in contact with them and explained that our plan was to print face shield PPE and follow the print and sanitation guidelines listed on NIH. We proceeded to print 100 shields as well as mask straps and donate to the hospital.
~ Middle class, young Asian couple
One small change, with large implications, is how my entryway looks these days. Many homemade face masks now occupy the pegs on a rack right inside our front door. I think it will look this way for years.
~ Submitted by Susan Koefod, West Saint Paul resident
I am an artist who is a Documentary Drawer. I have used this time of Sheltering in Place to draw how I feel and what I notice. My drawings are both social commentary and rather humorous too.
I have drawn through many situations over the past few years, situations that were tough like my husband’s medical issues/death. However, through my documentary drawing of him, I was able to document A Day in the Life of HCMC [Hennepin County Medical Center]. These drawings are on display in the new clinic on the second floor. So I have drawn through many many challenging moments in my life, and living and drawing through all this adversity is not new to me.
I have my ‘Spiritual Toolbox,’ which has grit/perseverance/humor/patience and fortitude as well as resilience. My motto, “When the going gets Tough, The Tough Start Drawing” also sustains me. My other motto, “Nothing is So Scary you Can't Draw It,” also applies to these current times, which can be scary indeed.
~ Anita White, documentary drawer
For as long as I’ve been studying history, I’ve wondered what it was like to live through a major historical event. Now, I have the opportunity to experience one first-hand, and it’s nothing like I imagined. For one thing, I always thought it would be something I read about in the news, such as the moon landing or the fall of the Berlin Wall. I never thought it would affect me personally. For another, I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly. It seemed as if everything fell apart in the space of a week, and nothing’s been the same since. For my class, the seniors of 2020, it’s been an especially crazy couple of weeks. Most of us won’t experience a graduation ceremony or be able to spend time making memories with friends. Our future is more uncertain than ever, both in the short and long term.
As hard as it is now, I am grateful for this experience. It has given me time to think and reflect about what’s important in life, and what I want my future to look like. Not only that, but it’s also helped me understand the past a little more. In history books, you always read about incredible people who did great things and helped save the world. You almost never get a clear picture of what it was like for ordinary people in their everyday lives. I think now more than ever it’s clear that ordinary people are just as important as people in power, and though the ways we contribute to society in such times can vary, they are all essential in their own way. Though everyone is (literally) more distant than ever, I feel like we’re closer than ever, too.
~ Caitlin Ruhl of Central Minnesota
I'm a young entrepreneur in the apparel design industry and I feel it is my obligation to use my skill to contribute to the community through the work that I do. I strongly believe in this desperate time of crisis that it's important we all come together to help one another to share information and bring awareness in regard to the rise of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia from the unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic...combat racism through solidarity.
~ Sai Xiong
I felt the saddest when the flower shops closed. They gave away all their flowers for free. It was such a beautiful thing to do for people. On Friday, March 27th, 2020 I didn’t see a single person who wasn’t carrying a handful of exotic orchids or carnations. It was as magical as it was devastating. [...] When I get scared, I try to remember the things I’m grateful for. Like how nature is having such a tremendous moment. There are children playing in backyards. People are walking dogs and picking up garbage off the streets because there’s nothing else to do. Everyone is going out hiking, dancing on their balconies, and screaming joyful hellos at one another.
~ Katrina Ardolf
I am a 3rd grade teacher. We were given notice and two days to say goodbye to our students. We were instructed to assure them that the school closure would be for the eight days that the governor ordered, but I knew better. We all knew better.
I took the opportunity to gently explain what was going on in the world, assure them that we would all be ok, but also let them know there was a very real possibility we would not see each other again this school year. We cried and hugged. Some of them refused to leave the classroom knowing they may not be back for longer than others thought it would be.
The following school day, the real work started. I started preparing a “distance learning” plan. We were expected to digitally deliver content to our students and needed a plan within those eight days. So there we worked tirelessly for eight full days doing the impossible. Putting together something no teacher had been trained for or had the time to do. We did it. Packets of learning went out to students, separated by week. They went with encouraging notes, school supplies and lots of love. Students picked them up from the school and for those who couldn’t, they were delivered. Lunches are delivered to families who can’t get food themselves. Companies have offered free internet to families without.
Now I teach through virtual meetings with students who will and can participate. I send daily video messages letting my students know I still care. I text, call, video chat as much as they let me while still trying to teach my own children from home. I put a smile on my face every morning because I know they need me but I really feel like my spirit is broken and I can’t do this anymore. We will be doing this for the rest of the school year and my heart breaks for the students and teachers who have lost so much and for parents who are trying their best at an impossible task. I lose sleep thinking about if my students are retaining knowledge but more about if they have enough food and if they are being loved enough at home.
We will do this because we are teachers and that’s what teachers do; we do the impossible every day. It doesn’t make it any easier though.
~ Suddenly a “virtual” 3rd-grade teacher
All of my clients are non-essential and customer-facing. I can work from home, but none of my clients can pay me. I'm so afraid that this will kill my business. But I'm also determined to use this as an obstacle to be overcome instead of something that ends my business. [...] I'm also angry and afraid because of all the racism directed at Asian Americans. This directly affects my family. My husband and daughter are Asian American. I see all the stories of hate crimes and it makes me so angry. I want to scream and yell and hug those that have this directed at them. But I can't hug them because of social distancing.
~ A small business owner