Despite the pervasive uncertainty, isolation, and disruption that Covid-19 has caused, there are considerable lessons of resilience and creativity in the community. Many young Evanstonians, still mindful of safety, are demonstrating perseverance, productivity, creativity, and enterprise look like. They are not letting this pandemic shut them down.
Four of them, Taryn Robinson, Gaby Calixte, Adele Fammeree, and Jexa Edinberg, spoke to the RoundTable about how their innovative lockdown experiences.
Taryn Robinson’s “Inspiration Series”
As Covid-19 was raging in early spring 2020 and Evanston unhappily settled into quarantine, Evanston Township High School senior Taryn Robinson, got going.
“I like having goals and knowing I have things scheduled in my life, and I wanted more than waiting for things to change,” she said. Taryn wanted to challenge herself to do something productive and different, so at the beginning of the quarantine, she decided to create an online magazine. It would be a diversion, she thought, but also a Pandemic project that might be like a pep talk to herself.
“I called the magazine Inspiration Series, and one of the first entries was a section about Covid-19 and taking care of yourself, actually written by my mom, who’s a pediatrician,” said Taryn.
“I wrote a section about Black Lives Matter, something important to me as a young Black woman, and I’ve included pieces about things that have made me feel more in control and upbeat during Covid. I devoted a section to organizing and planning, and another about plants and how taking care of these living things can lift your mood during these times when we’re are pretty isolated.”
Taryn felt the magazine was a good venue for finding her own voice, and she liked the designing part of creating the magazine, as well as the writing itself.
Because she was well acquainted with Canva, the free online design platform offering a lot of tools and versatility, she tinkered with its templates and formatting and graphics to come up with a customized and satisfying look for her magazine pages.
“I made the magazine for myself – not with the idea of widely distributing it – but I did share it with family and a few friends too, “ Taryn said.
“They seemed to like it, and some of them have contributed pieces to the magazine.” Though she’s taken a break from the magazine recently, she thinks she’ll probably return to it.
Taryn is a contributing writer to the ETHS paper, The Evanstonian, and she joined other Black artists and writers who produced the February content. “I’m writing about ‘imposter syndrome,’ something I have experienced in my life and want to overcome,” said Taryn. Interested readers can find her article on the paper’s website, www.evanstonian.net
In addition to writing, Taryn is dancing her way through the Pandemic. Since she was a 3-year-old tot, she has taken lessons and enjoys dance as a powerful form of self-expression.
In high school she has danced on the ETHS Dance Team, as well as with Evanston Dance Ensemble; but Covid-19 required a “new normal” for Taryn and her younger sister Kari, also a dance student. “Even before Dance Center Evanston shut down last March, I was worried it might eventually close and started practicing in my basement at home,” she said.
“My dad, who’s great at researching and tracking down bargains, found a portable non-slip dance floor for my sister and me.”
Taryn understood that the quarantine and new safety protocols presented her with obstacles but some new opportunities too. She began exploring new workout routines – with no real physical goals, in mind – mostly just as a way to fill that unanticipated time at home. “Soon I was regularly using an exercise bike and other equipment and discovered exercising to music was fun and motivating. I‘ve continued dancing, both at home and now every other week now back at DCE. Oh, and I’ve recently taken up meditation!” she said.
“I just decided I’d make the most of this pretty crazy time.”
Gaby Calixte: Crystals and LAC
Gaby Calixte, also an ETHS senior, is upfront in admitting the past year has been challenging. The isolation from friends, some lingering recovery from a serious sports injury sophomore year, no chance to visit potential colleges, the all-too-routine remote learning, and the unlikely chances for a real graduation have all weighed on her at times. However, through it all she has developed new passions, healed her body, found healthy and creative outlets for stress, and has a bucket list for LAC (life after Covid).
Since her freshman year, Gaby has competed in track and found joy in both practicing and competing with her team. She ran hurdles and earned a championship freshman year competing in Sectionals.
She also competed her sophomore year in the 200-meter and 400-meter events, but with track came a considerable setback.
A back fracture in spring of sophomore year took both a physical and emotional toll.
“I had a lot of pain and wore a back brace for close to four months and did many months of physical therapy and rehab.”
About when she was gearing up to compete again, Covid-19 derailed the 2020 track season.
“That’s when I decided to start practicing yoga,” said Gaby.
“I was a little familiar with it because my mom does yoga, but I began thinking it would be helpful for me, good for stretching and relaxing my back muscles. I started researching different kinds of yoga by watching YouTube videos.
“I’ve customized a routine that I do in my bedroom, where it’s quiet with no interruptions. And last summer, sometimes I met friends at the beach and did yoga there.”
In an indirect way, yoga introduced Gaby to another interest: crystals. “When I was watching yoga videos, I often saw the instructors wearing jewelry that seemed to be made with crystals,” she said.
“My curiosity led me to researching crystals, and I learned they have a long history of being associated with wellness, healing, and spirituality. I’ve become a big fan of them.”
Gaby bought books, learned about the different kinds of crystals and properties associated with them.
“I have them on my window sill where the light hits them, and I started making jewelry with crystals I remember how excited I was the first day I completed a piece, a necklace, and wore it to work.”
She has learned different wrapping techniques using hemp, and I loves doing it.
“The knotting is very calming and a good way to relax. Some of my friends really liked the crystal jewelry so I started a little jewelry business and get the word out on Instagram @gabysjewelryy.
When the Pandemic is over or greatly diminished, Gaby has plans. She is especially looking forward to visiting the campus of the college she will attend next fall.
“It has felt weird that I could be going somewhere to college without ever having even see the place, so actually visiting San Diego State University is number-one on my wish list.”
When Covid-19 fades, Gaby also wants to hang out with friends once again, and said “wouldn’t a mini “prom” be great, and some kind of graduation? Even a drive-by affair would be better than nothing!”
Adele Fammeree: Photography and Dance
Two passions are helping Adele Fammeree getting through this pandemic more or less unscathed. The Nichols School eighth-grader is both a dancer and a photographer, and she iss not someone who dabbles. During the pandemic she has immersed herself fully in both of her chosen art forms.
“I started taking pictures when I was in fifth grade,” said Adele. “My grandma gave me a camera of hers, one of those old Polaroid cameras using special film that instantly developed the pictures. I loved it! It was so much fun to snap a picture and be able to see the finished and developed photo right away.”
Taking photos with that old Polaroid was a catalyst, for doing more and better; and then a year later receiving a gift of a new Canon camera, Adele became hooked on photography.
She did not have a teacher or other expert to coach her, but she started taking lots of photos and learning about the capabilities of her camera.
She took pictures of nature, often close-ups of flowers, and photos of landscapes. The beach was a location, she liked, and she had favorite parks too, with just the right light.
She decided to start a portfolio of her photos, and eventually reached out to friends to see if they would enjoy scheduling photo shoots.
“I like to catch something of a person’s personality when I take a photograph,” Adele said.
“My Canon camera lets me take better photos than I usually could with my iphone, but I use my school Ipad or phone for editing. It takes a lot of time to do a good job editing, but it’s really fun.”
Adele’s hobby has morphed into an entrepreneurial enterprise, and she now has individuals and family or friend groups scheduling outdoor photo shoots of various lengths, the different timed packages including differing amounts of edited photos. She is hoping to do more family photos and some animal portraits in the future. People interested in her photography can find her on Instagram.
When she is not engaged in remote school classes or focusing her camera lens on someone or something, Adele is dancing.
“I’ve taken dance lessons since I was 3 and don’t see myself stopping any time soon,”she said.
“Dancing in my living room isn’t the same as being in the dance studio with other dancers, but during the pandemic, starting last spring, my living room, with the furniture pushed back, has been my studio.” Now that Dance Center Evanston is offering classes in a hybrid format (live classes and remote learning on alternating weeks), Adele participates after school and in evenings in ten weekly classes.
And so she will not languish from pandemic boredom, she is also dancing on weekends with ede2, the junior dance ensemble company.
Jexa Edinberg: Fashion and Music Stitched Together
Jexa Edinberg (pronouns they/their) received a sewing machine as a gift from their out-of-town grandma three years ago, and learning how to use it has been a life-changer.
Jexa was in fifth grade at the time, intrigued, but pretty sure a helping hand was going to be needed to make sense of that complicated mechanism.
Thanks to grandma #2 who lives locally, plus a family babysitter who was adept and launching a fashion brand, Jexa had some sewing skills by the time the pandemic struck.
The timing was good.
“I’ve come a long way since I first tried to sew a pair of pants,” said Jexa. “I sewed them so badly, but I did learn from my mistakes.” Learning patience and taking the time to hole up in their bedroom with the sewing machine and botched garments helped Jexa improve.
Patience, good problem-solving skills, creativity, and talent – as well as a lot of unscheduled time during quarantined months have produced some spectacular-looking garments designed and made by a middle-schooler.
In addition to creating an impressive wardrobe, Jexa spent the early months of the pandemic sewing cloth masks to give away – about 150 of them in fact.
“I had a lot of fabric scraps, and my mom found a good mask pattern, Jexa said. “I don’t really like production sewing, but the project needed that to accomplish a lot of masks. In spring, elastic was impossible to purchase, and those first masks had to be made with cloth ties. Later elastic was obtainable and quickened the process. My mom and younger brother helped: my mom cut the pieces, my brother turned them wrong-side-out, and I did the sewing,” Jexa explained.
Sewing is not all that Jexa has been doing. “I did a project this year as part of a school assignment. Since I’m interested in fashion design, I interviewed three people who play different roles in the fashion and design world. One was a costume designer, another a fashion designer with an established brand, and one who’s a visual artist who combines photography with multi-media art,” they said. Creating and producing fashions is not all that interests Jexa though; fashion history is also their interest as well as researching why and how the fashion industry has become one of the world’s largest polluters.
Jexa’s creative output during the pandemic has also included writing fiction and poetry. “Poems seem very connected to song lyrics, so in the past months I have tried transferring poetry to music and have experimented with making songs using GarageBand software,” said Jexa.
For someone with Jexa’s curiosity and creativity, no doubt there will probably be countless other creative paths to explore at ETHS this fall.