Ping Zhu, like all of us, has been grappling with what it means to be several months into a pandemic with no foreseeable end. September marks six months since many Americans began self-quarantining in March. Zhu, a 32-year-old illustrator, lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend, Daniel, and their dog, Uma. Often, her work — which has been commissioned by Warby Parker, the New Yorker and the New York Times, among others — depicts abstract topics, like emotions or surreal scenarios. That’s partially why we asked Zhu to illustrate meaningful moments from the past six months. While the images are specific to her life, the sentiments behind them are probably widely felt. See her drawings, and the captions explaining each, below.
— Nneka McGuire, Lily multiplatform editor
The passage of time has been disorienting this year.
I do what I can to establish routines, in hopes of waking up to fewer unknowns. Six months ago, I decided to hang on to just one goal: running through the summer. I’ve been unable to consistently run over the past few years for one reason or another — weather, injuries, hangovers. (In July 2017, while running by the Brooklyn Library, I sprained my ankle so badly that I tore a ligament.) Since the news forecast a year unlike any other, I thought it was time to try to commit.
Summer running presents challenges, like the need to wake up early enough to beat the heat and humidity. But I’m doing it. As this year progresses, some things continue to be familiar, for better or for worse. Running has created a space to think about my limitations and exercise patience, which is what I’ve needed the most during these uncertain times.
A nervousness is in the air, and I’m unsure of what it means in the long term. Things seem normal at first glance, but the news is saying otherwise. I have been wearing a face mask on public transport since February, but now I start wearing one all the time. I had signed up in January to run the Brooklyn Half Marathon, so training while wearing a mask has been difficult. The race is in May. I don’t consider that it might not happen.
The mix of unknowns and anxiety from the news is at an all-time high this month. I try to stay as focused as I can on training but push myself too hard. My left hip starts feeling very tender, and instead of taking it easy, I keep running. Eventually, I am barely able to walk comfortably. I know this is a bad sign, but without an outlet, I start to feel worse because I’m not listening to my body.
As I let myself heal, I find out that the Brooklyn Half is officially canceled. This isn’t necessarily good news, but at least there isn’t a race to train for. The healing process is difficult, because I am impatient about returning to my goal of running through the summer. The inability to do anything is frustrating.
Protests blossom across the country and the New York City running community comes together to stand in solidarity. After a whole month off, my leg is finally pain-free, and I’m able to join a protest run along the East River. This is the first time I am around so many people in months, and despite the horrific reasons we are all here, it is an invigorating reminder of life and death.
I leave the city for the first time since self-quarantine began to go camping. The exposure to this amount of nature is jolting. The ability to take a breath of fresh air is healing. (Back in the city, I didn’t feel like I was able to be outside without a mask on.) The gravity of how much we all need space to breathe and move is palpable.
I’m introspective this time of the year because of my birthday. I turn 32 and think about how different this year is than the last. It is somewhat cliche, but I’ve experienced a learning curve with patience. I have been practicing a new motto: going nowhere fast. It’s a reminder to be aware of my current surroundings and to know that things will always take time, even when supported by conscious effort. My new goal is to run slower to avoid injury and to view it as some extra time outdoors. Why rush to get back inside?