These days, all my essays are about other people. My mom often tells me that maybe I should spend less time worrying about boys and more on my classes, or earning money, or whatever. But I’m aware that my specialty is making other people cry with my poetry-prose on heartbreak — pieces inspired by and dedicated to people I’ve loved. I am rarely the star of my own works, which is oxymoronic since they’ve all been labeled “self essays.”
This time is going to be different, though. This time, my co-protagonist is not a past lover. It’s the global pandemic that shook the world in 2020 — say it with me — COVID-19.
My story with COVID-19 began as many did: a cheer for joy upon hearing that school would be canceled for a week. It was the middle of the spring semester of my junior year in high school. I was studying my butt off for the SATs, because all that mattered to me then was getting good enough grades to get into an Ivy League college, just as my parents had dreamed for me. When we got the news of the virus, I was sitting in my health class (ironic, I know), chatting excitedly with a boy I would never see again. I was going to teach him how to play volleyball.
And you already know what comes next, because you’ve lived it too: weeks turned into months, and months piled up into over a year and a half of being barred from leaving my home. Claire, the teenager newly pushed out of her extremely academically-intensive high school, suddenly found herself with more free time than she had known how to use. At first, I treated it like a typical break from school: I watched YouTube all day, slept at 3 a.m., and woke up at noon. In my Minecraft Hardcore survival world, I accomplished more in three weeks than I probably ever will in my adult life: I built four skyscrapers; I killed the Ender Dragon 12 times; I attained every achievement in the game except for one; I made a zoo filled with strange creatures. I lived life vicariously through the Sidemen’s pre-lockdown videos, and I developed parasocial relationships with Minecraft YouTube creators like Dream and Technoblade. I was spending more time on the screen than in real life.
Then, boredom hit me just like it did everybody else. After that last day of high school, my brain shut off like a switch — from being used all the time to virtually never. My mind wasn’t handling it too well; I started getting headaches and chest pain from being hunched over in front of a phone or computer screen 24/7. I felt sluggish. I started eating only once a day, and at irregular times. I had to introduce something new in my life — something more than just a new YouTube channel.
Looking back, it’s kind of ironic that my time on the screen was what pushed me to try new things in real life. In my desire to use my free time to replicate the joys of my childhood, I re-watched one of my favorite cartoon shows, “Adventure Time.” One of its supporting characters, Marceline, is a gorgeous, hilarious, badass vampire queen who can fly, shape-shift into titanic monsters, and karate-chop her enemies to oblivion. But most importantly, she owns a bass. She’s a musician.
Music is a central part of “Adventure Time,” and it doesn’t hurt that the songs from that show f*cking slap. But I wanted to do more than just sing those songs: I wanted to be just like Marceline. Except I couldn’t afford a bass, and the walls were too thin for me to replicate her signature punk-rock shredding. So I settled on the ukulele, and the rest is history.
They say that everyone on this planet was given a talent — a gift from God to contribute to the world. My ukulele, my voice, and the free time from lockdown were the triple threat I needed to realize that music is my contribution. I stopped caring so much about my grades. I started writing songs on my ukulele, matching my words with melodies. As I started learning more and more songs, I made covers of them on my very own YouTube channel, something I’d always wanted to do but was too afraid to. I joined virtual music programs, met producers, and made crazy connections in the industry. Craziest of all, I started telling people I was a singer-songwriter — if you’d told high school freshman Claire that that would be her identity, she wouldn’t have believed you!
Looking back, it’s ironic that I only realized how wide the world was once I was confined to the 100-square-foot cave of my bedroom. Looking back, I’m so relieved that I discovered the multiverse of possibilities beyond the brick walls of my high school, beyond the Spanish tests and the teenage drama and the anxious question of “Will I end up at an Ivy League?”
Looking back, COVID-19, you deserve some gratitude for making me do what I was always too scared to do. For pushing me into the big and beautiful world of art. For forging a path away from the “good grades to a good job to a good salary” pipeline. But, COVID-19, I will never be glad you happened. Because wasn’t it me who walked that path? Wasn’t it me who took the melodies of the life you tore down and wrote a song — a song that I could finally enjoy for myself, and not for my parents or judgemental Asian relatives or anybody who told me that a stable life and career are the only way to go?
I’m not glad you happened, but I’m so proud of myself for how I handled you.
So thank you, COVID-19, but an even bigger thank you to me.
Claire Shin ’25 is a head editor for The Prospect at the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram at @claireshin86, or on TikTok also at @claireshin86.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at prospect[at]dailyprincetonian.com.