The Common Reading Summer Assignment is meant to help you connect with your Perspectives professor, your peers, and the campus at large. You’ll turn it in to your Perspectives (or Global Business Perspectives, Honors Thought, or your Living Learning Community) Instructor at the beginning of the term. All students are also invited to submit their works to the Common Reading Program Summer Assignment Contest! We’ll pick our three favorite works to publish in next year’s anthology, and contest winners will receive a prize package! To enter, email your entry to Dr. Heather Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org!
For your summer assignment, we invite you to think outside the box. We invite you to adapt the assignment to best represent you, your experience, and your interests. In a form short personal narrative, explore the idea of adaptation and how it has fit into your life. Your assignment may take shape as be a written essay (1-2 pages) or a video essay (1-3 minutes).
Reflecting on one or more of the works within your anthology, consider a time in your life that required you to adapt. How did this experience change you? What did you learn about yourself and your environment in the process?
As you complete this assignment, feel free to tap into your creative side! Your assignment can strive for accuracy, or lean toward fiction and exaggeration, it can focus on text, or could even become a series of TikToks. There’s one catch: You need to be able to turn your assignment in to your instructor, so all videos must be in a .mp4 format and all documents must be .docx or .pdf.
Adapting to the Pandemic as a Writer
After graduating high school with high honors and hopes, I was looking forward to making a difference in the world. At first, I wanted to be an archaeologist, which quickly changed to lawyer, then to anthropologist, then to forensic psychologist—then I walked across the stage as they announced what I would be studying at my honor cord ceremony. “Hannah Mackey will be double-majoring in creative writing and publishing and editing at Susquehanna University.” This shocked not only me, but also my parents who didn’t expect either major. I had hinted to them before that I wanted to pursue creative writing, and they cautiously supported me, as they were worried about this future career path being unsustainable. Writing had been my passion from the moment I could form sentences and verbalize stories, long before I could write, but it never seemed like a stable career path. I was fully aware of that, and still chose it with wary confidence. Then, the pandemic hit, and my ability to write a single word seemingly vanished, and my motivation to express myself through written word was nonexistent.
After my first year at Susquehanna, which was suddenly interrupted by the unforeseen pandemic, I entered summer with a foggy head. I didn’t know what to do with myself while stuck at home, even though the most obvious choice would be writing. The pandemic offered a lot of free time that I didn’t expect to have, so it would make sense for me to write about all of the pent-up emotions I felt about the pandemic, my first-year being cut short, and my anxiety about the near future, and I did none of it. Instead, I was left to deal with a force I normally could ignore while in school: my mental health. Besides adjusting to living with my family again, including my dad who normally worked all the time even during the summer, I was adjusting to long bouts of depression and intense periods of anxiety. I found myself staying up extremely late and sleeping in until noon, then staying in bed until late in the afternoon, I wasn’t eating as much so I felt fatigued most of the day, and I was making myself feel bad about all of it. I rarely turned to my computer to write anymore, because I didn’t want to write about any reflection of the world around me. It was a very difficult period of my life after an already hard first-year of college.
Writing wasn’t the first, or the second thing that I turned to, in fact it was the last thing that I thought about. I knew that something needed to change—that I needed to face my mental health instead of postponing it any longer. It started off very simple with creating a daily schedule for me to follow each day. If I didn’t follow everything on the schedule, I would focus on what I accomplished instead of everything else that I didn’t get to. I would make to-do lists if I was too tired or overwhelmed to create a schedule, and give myself days where I could relax and not punish myself for not doing anything. In the middle of a pandemic, I realized that I had to understand and reconcile with myself for everything I couldn’t do. Otherwise, I would be stuck in the same cycle of anxiousness and sadness for the entire summer. Now, although I can’t say that any of these things cured or helped treat my mental health, they were ways to combat them. I learned to live with them and cope with their side effects, and eventually, I found myself writing again. I didn’t write an entire novel or collection of short stories over the course of that summer, but I did write, whether it be once or twice a week, I wrote, and didn’t feel as if I was forcing myself to. It was a tiring journey to get there, but I adjusted to the sudden changes in the world as best as I could, and realized that it was okay to be unproductive in the midst of a chaotic summer.
A Reflection on Growing Up with a Disabled Parent
When I was really young, around four or five, I thought all moms had trouble walking. It wasn’t until I went to kindergarten, and saw all the other parents walk to the classroom door to pick up their kids as the teacher walked me out to my car, that I realized it was just my mom. Despite the fact that her chronic illness came on later in life, I have no memories of her walking unassisted. At first it was just a cane, small enough to hook onto the back of a restaurant chair and light enough slide into a grocery cart. As her Multiple sclerosis worsened, she transitioned to using a walker. They are generally much harder to hide away in a movie theater or fit into a car. Although the degeneration of her nerves was slow and steady, the upgrading of walking aids made it easy to pinpoint the exact day in which she lost her mobility.
I remember the first time someone tried to stop me from bringing her an electric grocery cart. It’s generally frowned upon for seven year-olds to drive one out of the store by themselves, and any self-respecting adult would feel the need to question the legitimacy of my claims. To my first-grade brain, the most confusing part was that it wasn’t even an employee, it was just some random man who couldn’t mind his own business. I asked him, “How do you think people who can’t walk get to the electric carts if they’re in the parking lot and the carts are in the store?” He wasn’t super impressed with my tone and it was abundantly clear that he had never put any thought to the matter as he had never needed to. Most able-bodied people don’t think about how those who cannot walk get from point A to point B, let alone about the kind of assistance they may need.
Everyone in my immediate family is hyper aware of handicap accessibility. Every building we walk into is immediately judged: Is the ramp too steep? Are there enough grab bars in the bathrooms? Which way does the stall door swing? How high up is the sink? All ‘historical’ buildings that aren’t required to be accessible are an automatic no (and should only be allowed in the seventh circle of hell). All people who act as if ‘historical integrity’ is more important than the lives and comfort of disabled people can join the aforementioned buildings.
All my life, I have watched my mom try and adapt to her chronic and degenerative condition. In contrast, I have tried to force our environment, and sometimes the people in it, to adapt to her needs, with varying degrees of success. It would be naïve and overly optimistic to wish that I could adapt to meet every obstacle in her path. But nonetheless, I have learned that chronic optimism pairs nicely with chronic illness.
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