May 21, 2020

Quality Connections in Quarantine

Reporting Texas


Austin, a city known for its traffic, high density and crowd-drawing festivals, is closing in on two months of staying home.

Public discourse has been inundated with stories of premature death, economic demise and fear.

This is not one of them.

Human beings are innately social creatures. We crave connections with others. Even introverts such as myself need to talk to someone every once in a while.

As we are all surrounded by uncertainty and varying levels of anxiety, that need for connection and socialization is amplified. Checking in with those you care about has become essential, both for their sake and your own.

And yet, in this unique situation we have all found ourselves in, in-person socialization, for our own safety, cannot occur.

As Austin Mayor Steve Adler said, social distancing does not mean social isolation. We live in a time where we can talk to people from all around the world. Screens have come to be our social saviors in this time of seclusion.

Whether it’s video calls or doorstep delivery, Texans are finding creative ways to stay happily social during this time of crises.

Birthday Extravaganza

The plan had been to get a large group of people and go to the zoo. Sarah Long’s daughter Lilly was turning 4. After the zoo, they would have cake and presents, like any other birthday party.

“It would have been a whole deal, cake and ice cream,” Long said.

Like thousands of other Texans across the state, Long’s plans were forced to change.

She worked hard to make sure Lilly’s birthday fun wasn’t hampered by quarantine. Long blew up a large number of balloons and had them all over Lilly’s bed before she woke up.

“I just made sure it was basically Christmas when she woke up,” Long said.

Long’s sister celebrated her niece’s birthday curbside. She dropped off her present at their front door, then stayed in her car and watched Lilly open her gift.

The now four-year-old got some art supplies and some coveted toilet paper from her aunt, who yelled happy birthday to her from her car.

Lilly’s family called to wish her a happy birthday as well. Despite being local, they took the safer route of calling.

Long said many of Lilly’s gifts have since come in the mail.

“She had a great birthday,” Long said. “She kept running through the house singing happy birthday to herself.”

Raves Switch to Twitch

Flying around the country and meeting up with large groups of people for parties now seems unfathomable. Before COVID-19 had Austin under mandatory stay home orders, Mylo Merritt had plans to attend a party every week for four weeks, both in and out of the state. She was supposed to go to Dallas, then come back to Austin and then go to Arizona.

Again, plans changed.

“The week before everything basically got shut down, the people who were doing the show in Dallas were like ‘Screw it, we’ll do it at our houses and stream it on Twitch,’” Merritt said.

Twitch is an online platform for livestreaming videos. Typically, Twitch is a host for gaming videos, but not exclusively.

Livestreams kept happening from there. The streams, however, were different from the in-person raves.

For one, the livestreams are free. Attendees can send funds if they desire, but it is not mandatory to pay to watch the livestream.

The DJs also have to make themselves available on the chat.

“It was really surreal,” Merritt said. “The first one, they had DJs that I would have considered legends, and here I am talking to them on Twitch.”

The first virtual rave was such a success that a New Yorker started planning the second festival before the first had even ended.

With livestreams comes the ability to have DJs from all over the world show up.

The first party, Merritt said lasted three days. The second rave is scheduled for four days.

The streams are nonstop since the DJs come from across the globe, Merritt said.

“What’s unheard of is this idea that they’re all banding together and creating those festivals,” Merritt said. “Because there’s no way for us to all get together and go to them.”

A tradition at raves, Merritt said, is to share “kandi” (colorful pony beads) with people you’re meeting for the first time at the parties. Since they can’t share them in person, they’re mailing each other kandi.

In-person raves bring with them the energy of the other people and dancing, which isn’t quite the same with the virtual versions, Merritt said.

“It’s become more of the hanging out,” she said. “You’re definitely getting the social aspect, which I think now is what is really needed.”

Participating in the streams has made Merritt feel connected to other people in a very unique way, she said. During the streams, there’s no talk of COVID-19. Raves themselves are escapist, so they talk about things that make them happy.

“I think it’s been the greatest thing for me this whole time,” Merritt said.

For Merritt especially, whose job requires her to look at content related to COVID-19 all day, the virtual raves have helped keep her happy.

“They’re there to think about something else, to have fun and just not worry about things for a little bit,” she said. “I’m actually really glad that I have this.”

Happy Hour in 2020 and Creative Outlets

Inspired by the virtual happy hour sessions she’d seen on Instagram, Kristina Jingling decided to hold her own. Jingling took advantage of the breadth of technology by having a virtual night in with two of her friends who don’t live close by.

Because they don’t live close to each other, Jingling said she wouldn’t have seen her friends often anyways.

“We all had our own drinks.” Jingling said. “We ended up chatting for three hours.”

While the idea started off as happy hour drinks, the night became three hours of drinks, dinner and conversation.

“It’s our core group of friends,” Jingling said. “It was just really fun, once we worked out all the kinks.”

While Jingling said the virtual happy hour hasn’t become a recurring thing for herself, she did inspire her mother to have virtual happy hours.

Her mother had happy hour meetups with her friends before the stay home orders were issued. A week after Jingling told her about her virtual meetup, her mother held her own.

The possibility of future virtual happy hours is not ruled out.

“I’m sure we’ll do it again,” Jingling said. “I want to figure out how to play games.”

Outside of the virtual meetup, Jingling said she’s been utilizing her extra time to work on creative skills.

“I did set some really goofy goals for myself,” she said. “I think creativity doesn’t have to be painting or drawing.”

This means online shopping to set up her new home, getting creative with items she brought with her from her previous residence, cooking different meals, getting creative with what she has in the pantry and getting better at braiding her hair.

Jingling has since been working on that last goal.

Viral Variety Show and Spirit Week

Study abroad students have undoubtedly experienced a trip to remember.

From appealing to stay in Europe to being essentially recalled back to the United States, Sabrina LeBoeuf found a way to keep her spirits up during her 14 day quarantine: a variety show on YouTube. After a day’s worth of flying, LeBoeuf began filming.

Her show, which has 11 episodes so far, includes life updates, music (performed by LeBoeuf) and chatting with friends via FaceTime for updates on what’s happening near them.

Outside of classes, LeBoeuf said she needed something to occupy her time, and she’d always liked the idea of variety shows.

Her study abroad program was more focused on corporate communications, she said. As a journalism student, LeBoeuf said she missed doing journalism.

Her hope is historians will one day find her show and learn more about this time period.

But it wasn’t all self-reporting about the state of the world.

“I knew I was going to be by myself in a room all day,” LeBoeuf said. “It was a way to show my friends and family I was doing okay.”

On top of producing a YouTube series, LeBoeuf decided to host a spirit week on social media. She encouraged her followers to dress up according to each theme of the day.

“I really like dressing up and so that’s one part of (the reason I created it),” she said. “And I really miss getting dressed up to go out and hang out. But also I was thinking about just having something to look forward to each day and just kind of switch things up.”

Some followers participated in the spirit week consistently. A friend from high school did makeup-inspired looks from the theme of the day, and some of her friends’ other friends who LeBoeuf didn’t even know participated as well.

Her mom joined in, too.

To stay even more connected, LeBoeuf said she makes a point to call someone every day.

“It’s been nice to have regular conversations with the same people,” she said. “And just to be more connected. It’s way better than just spending all your time with your thoughts.”

Something Leboeuf has been grateful to be able to do during this time is spend more time with her mom.

“It’s been really nice to hang out with my mom all the time,” she said.

The Birthday ‘Zoom’

The leadup to her birthday didn’t have Alice Thomas feeling great.

Weeks before her birthday, and before the stay home order, Thomas was excited to have people over to celebrate. When the get-together was no longer allowed to occur, Thomas was pretty upset.

But her partner had an idea. An idea Thomas consistently reiterated was “really, really sweet.”

Together, the couple put together a Facebook event and created a Zoom meeting.

Zoom has proven to be the great unifier of 2020. The platform allows for multi- person video-chats, giving users a “face-to-face” experience with their virtual communication.

“I think a part of me expected for like a couple people to filter in and out,” Thomas said. “I just didn’t expect everyone to show up.”

Because the celebration took place through Zoom, Thomas said she was able to have people celebrating with her who normally wouldn’t be able to attend. Living in a small home, she was also able to have more people on the Zoom call than she would have been able to comfortably fit inside.

“So many people had sweet things delivered to me, which I was very appreciative of,” she said.

Friends had food and desserts delivered to her doorstep since they couldn’t bring them in person.

While it wasn’t her ideal birthday, Thomas said she was glad to have something.

“I still had a cake because my girlfriend made it for me,” she said. “I still had some semblance of something. It was good to have people there, too.”

Good people, and good cake. Chocolate cake with raspberry icing.

The “Family Zoom Thing” and Acrylic Pour Painting

The 65th wedding anniversary of Christan Davis’ grandparents required something special. This is how Christan and her husband Jesse Davis found themselves on a multi-screen Zoom call one night.

With nine Zoom screens crammed into one, and at least 22 people, the family get-together ensued.

Christan said they hadn’t had a big family get-together in a few years. The Zoom call was a necessary substitute for an in-person meeting.

During the call, her grandparents told the story of how they got married, which involved eloping without their parents’ permission.

Everyone showed up, Jesse said.

As an ER charge nurse, Christan enjoyed the opportunity to talk with her grandparents safely.

“It was heartwarming,” she said. “It’s comforting for me to just be around family, and this is the closest I can do it now. Since I work in the hospital I definitely don’t want to be with my grandparents right now.”

It felt like they were all hanging out together in the living room, Christan said, which is what the family typically does when they meet up. It was nice to see their faces rather than just talking over the phone, she said.

“The free Zoom meeting gave us a time limit,” she said. “Once it ran out of time it cut us off, and my aunt had to send another meeting.”

They used the full time limit for both calls.

Not everything can translate through Zoom, however, like the family’s long goodbye ritual involving lots of hugs and waving from the driveway.

Still, her family loved the time they spent together virtually. To keep herself happy outside of work, Christan paints.

“I’ve been painting more and kind of pushing myself to try new techniques I’ve never tried or colors I’ve never used,” she said. “We have a studio out in the garage that Jesse made me, so that’s really helped me feel better.”

She’s also found joy in cooking and planning out meals.
As for Jesse, he’s been playing video games when he’s done with work. “And eating all the food,” he said. “She’s so good at it.”

Sarah Long, with the help of her sister, changing plans for her daughter’s fourth birthday. Mylo Merritt using technology to keep the party going at a distance. Kristina Jingling finding solace in creativity. Sabrina LeBoeuf creating a variety show on YouTube to keep her spirits up during quarantine. Christan Davis and Alice Thomas, though not together, both turning to “Zoom” to celebrate milestones with loved ones.

Newfound opportunities afforded by sacrifice.

These Texans are just a few of the millions across the country and the world during this pandemic who are committing the selfless act of self-isolation; acting alone together to protect countless others while finding a new sense of self-fulfillment.