When Middlebury students were sent home last March tasked with finishing the semester remotely, students in Erin Davis’s podcast course received a new assignment: to create audio portraits of their own self-isolation.
Middlebury Magazine and The Middlebury Campus have teamed up to present these stories from the early days of a global pandemic. The Campus has published a podcast episode featuring all seven pieces at one time. We are publishing serially, an episode at a time, with a new piece appearing every few days.
Our second episode features Emily Ballou, reporting from her home in South Royalton, Vermont.
Speaker 1: Hi Em.
Speaker 2: Hi Emily.
Speaker 3: Hi Emily.
Speaker 4: Hi Emily.
Speaker 5: Hi Em Ballou.
Speaker 6: Hey Ballou.
Speaker 7: Hi Em.
Speaker 8: What is up, IOU Ballou?
Emily: Hey, what’s going on? It’s Em Ballou, sleeper by day and student by night and you’re listening to “Hungry? Or just bored?”— my audio self-portrait for the pandemic in the spring of 2020.
Over the past few months, I’ve really enjoyed listening to podcasts and I would even call myself a podcast person now. I’m so inspired by a range of creative people, such as
Ira: This is Ira Glass.
Steve: Steve Perrault.
Alex : Alex Francisco.
Gabrielle: Gabrielle Starr.
Khari: I’m Khari Bloom.
Rishi: I’m Rishi Mital.
Destiny: My name is Destiny.
Megan: My name is Megan.
Shereen: Hey, I’m Shereen Marisol Maraji.
Gene: I’m Gene Demby.
Emily: Thanks to social isolation and the whole COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had a lot of time to do nothing but listen to podcasts. Although I almost lose myself in the stories and conversation recorded all these sessions, I really can’t help but think about my friends and how much better it would be if I was hearing their voices talking to me instead.
Marisa: Hello, it’s Marisa.
Benjamin: Hello, it’s Benjamin. Benjamin Johnson.
Mark: It’s Mark.
Virginia: It’s Virginia.
Nikki: It’s Nikki.
Nolan: Nolan Shapiro.
Laura: This is Laura.
Mia: This is Mia.
Bridgette: This is Bridgette.
Speaker 30: It’s just me.
Speaker 31: I hope you’re having fun at whatever you’re doing right now. I always forget what you’re up to.
Speaker 30: I see that you called and I just wanted to give you a call back.
Speaker 32: I’m just calling you to say that I miss you, and I hope that my favorite Virgo queen is doing lovely.
Speaker 33: I hope your files are going well. Thank God. I finished mine a few days ago and I feel like a person again.
Speaker 34: I just finished my last exam and yes, I had an exam that went from—it was live—it went from 7 to 10 on a Saturday night.
Speaker 35: I was just calling to say hi, slash calling because you wanted me to.
Speaker 34: I was so livid about it, but it was my last one. Now I’m just really excited that I’m done.
Speaker 36: I hope it was nice up in Vermont too. I hope you got to have fun with London.
Speaker 34: Oh, what’s up with you, like, how’s Vermont?
Speaker 35: I know it’s been a while, so I’m going to sing a little tune for you.
Speaker 36: Life is probably more boring there.
Speaker 35: (singing).
Speaker 36: I actually went for a run and went outside of my house for the first time in a while.
Speaker 35: (singing).
Speaker 34: I’m currently sitting in the dark, hanging out in my house with my cat because that’s just how it is on your typical Saturday night during quarantines.
Speaker 36: That voicemail message you have? It sounds like you’re so bored and sad.
Speaker 37: I saw your advertisement on Craigslist for professional ghostwriting services.
Speaker 38: I’m calling for May and I, to see when you’d like to book your next hair appointment. We’ve got tons of new hair colors we’d love to try on you and see you in the CFI basement again.
Speaker 39: I hope you enjoyed my saga of shaving.
Speaker 40: Quarantine got us really bored out here.
Speaker 39: I did too. I don’t have my paper with me. Maybe hillbilly farmer.
Speaker 36: That basically sets the tone for most of quarantine.
Emily: It’s hard living back in my childhood home with my family. I’m really grateful for the time we’re having together, but the novelty of that has definitely worn off. It’s really, really difficult to be an adult in a house where you were a child before. Your parents are still trying to parent you, kind of like how they were four or five, 10 years ago. It’s almost like you’re still a high schooler trying to have a grown-up life, but not being able to leave yet. Speaking of almost, I’m sick of almost. I haven’t managed to fill all this time in quarantine with anything much of substance: just a lot of baking, eating, crying, sleeping, you know.
All I have is an abundance of almost. I’m almost in touch with my friends, but FaceTime and Zoom don’t quite bridge the gap. I’m almost learning to play harmonica. My home is almost private, but a small house with thin walls and filled with four adults and a dog is almost claustrophobic. Kind of. I’m almost getting back into listening to music. It’s the happy songs I would dance to with my friends that make me the most sad.
I’m almost done unpacking from abruptly moving home two months ago, so my room is almost clean. I’m almost done with finals and I’m almost done with junior year. I’ve actually been procrastinating this project because once this is done, that means my school year is officially over, and I don’t want that. Some days, some hours, I’m almost happy. Others, I’m almost angry. I’m almost relaxed. I’m almost always anxious. I’m almost living. I’ve realized that almost is this weird foggy reality between what isn’t and what wants to be. No matter how full I try to make my days, they just can’t be filled up.
I think I’ve realized that quarantine and being socially isolated is the quintessence of almost. It’s this blurred actuality, and this period of quarantine is just like the period of falling after jumping or falling off a cliff. We’re all plummeting in search of whatever reality is next to come, and some of us want to dive head first into what comes after quarantine. Yet some are desperately grappling at the face of the cliff in hopes of getting back to life before the fall.
I miss my friends. I miss Midd. I miss being able to just go be outside and hang out with people and see people and hear people and I can’t wait for the brighter days ahead. In the meantime, I think I’m going to go out to the kitchen and find a snack now.
Speaker 1: Yeah, I miss you a lot.
Speaker 35: I hope you and London are killing it up in Vermont.
Speaker 1: Anyways, I hope you’re having fun.
Speaker 35: We should talk again soon.
Speaker 1: Bye-bye.
Speaker 34: Bye.
Speaker 36: Bye-bye.
Speaker 39: Bye-bye.
Speaker 41: Bye.
Speaker 40: Bye.
Speaker 33: Ta-ta.
Speaker 42: All right, goodbye.
Speaker 34: Hopefully, I’ll see you in a few months.
Speaker 43: I’ll be back on your street soon enough.
Speaker 44: Bye-bye. Stay healthy. I’ll see you in the fall.
Speaker 45: Bye-bye.
About Emily Ballou
Home: South Royalton, Vermont
Major: Double major in American Studies and Theatre.
What she learned while sheltering in place: “While in isolation, I have realized how important communication is, and how difficult it is to stay connected while physically apart. Although Facetiming and Zooming are helpful alternatives to in-person bonding, they simultaneously create further barriers between people and make it easy to hide behind a screen. At times like these when the future is uncertain, it’s easy to push others away when truthfully, that’s when we need the most support. I have also learned how to greater appreciate the time spent with our friends and family. Life moves quickly and we’re only given four years (or fewer) at Middlebury, so why not enjoy the present as best as we can?”