Shelby Cooke

Place of writing: Delaware, USA

When starting Times Shifting, I was just about to start a new part-time job, to go out into the real world again after 4 months. I was feeling overwhelmed: I didn’t have a full-time job (my prospective job was put on hold indefinitely because of the pandemic), I wasn’t doing enough with all this time we had been given, not being productive or creative enough, but also was so overwhelmed with the multiple group zooms I’d signed up to do, with all the ideas I was having but none of the energy to complete them.

Regardless of what I did, or didn’t do, I felt like a failure. It was a constant blur of stress, panic, tears and ice cream.

Not only did my venture with Times Shifting get me writing creatively again since middle school (as a researcher and born academic-type, the idea of “creative writing” is terrifying – I don’t write stories, I examine them!), but it also provided me with a means of examining my emotions that seemed so erratic. It allowed me to process what seemed completely unattainable at the time, reflecting back on a time that felt so unreal and like an out-of-body experience.

Perhaps, it was the 2020 version of therapy since the doctor’s offices were closed.

* * *

The Cultural Effect of the COVID-19 Crisis:

A Reflection of the 2020 Lockdown through Media Consumption.

Elizabeth Roberts, COVID Cultural Researcher


During a time of physical disconnect, we gravitate towards media to entertain us, to remind us how to live, to supplement our desire for human connection. As we continue to explore the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on our society, it’s pivotal that we reflect not only on the collective consciousness, but also the individual experience. We know that the media was a solace for those locked in their homes, using it to replace their need for social interaction and as a means to reflect on the time they were living in. Media became a way to connect people during a time of isolation.

In the following pages, we are granted direct access to the media consumption of someone living during the 2020 pandemic. Her diary, which is categorised by what she was watching, remarks both on the influence of the media during this time and on her own mental state. Her entries contain references to the cultural experiences shared by a large portion of the world during social distancing: popular entertainment programmes, global and local news and artistic innovations. Her words contain within them the cultural Zeitgeist of 2020. But they are also intensely personal, echoing the mental struggle of self-isolation. We are taken on a journey through her anxiety and paranoia, the spiraling of self-confidence and the decline in personal value. But she also laughs and jokes, attempting to bring joy into this dark moment. We witness how she copes with the media, using it as a confidant, as a cathartic unravelling, as a way to release suppressed emotions and calm an overly active mind. Her writings may seem trivial, but they, in fact, encompass a world of cultural understandings.

The University of Thillhornsbrough November 2031

Lockdown 2020:

Days since normality 146 147

17 March 2020:

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

2 days after my birthday. 24. Lockdown begins. We get a take-away from a local restaurant. Most people are eating in because it’s their “last supper”.

I watch The Spy Who Came in from the Cold because it’s Mark’s favourite film. I fall asleep half-way through; texted him and told him it was great.

28 March 2020:

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness

The entire globe is watching a bunch of backwoods

hillbillies fight over captive animals. The “president” just talked about pardoning Joe Exotic during the Coronavirus Task Force briefing. We’re all laughing at how stupid and ridiculous these people are. But the same people are also watching Fox News, saying the virus was created by the Democrats to ruin the economy and Trump’s presidency.

My Trump-loving neighbours are now ‘libertarians’ – a word they probably heard from Joe Exotic. Do they even know what a libertarian is?

29 March 2020:

Buzzfeed Unsolved: True Crime

Why are true crime documentaries so interesting? And why are we so obsessed with watching them? Has someone done a study on this? God, the Ghoul Boys are funny. I love this stupid shit.

7 April 2020:

Frances Ha

I had a fight with Mark – we’re not speaking. I know

what will make me feel better: watching a Greta Gerwig

movie where she literally plays the sorry excuse of a person that I actually am. “Undateable”, is the character’s trademark saying. Same.

9 April 2020:


Finally, some good old education! Nothing problematic here. Just straight facts told by an overly eccentric dude. Fantastic.

13 April 2020:

And Then We Danced

I’m supposed to be on a plane today going to see my sister in California. All flights were cancelled. I feel guilty for not being upset that I won’t see her.

I find a site that helps support local independent art cinemas by renting movies online. As a film person,

it’s my responsibility to help the cinemas during this time.

$15 for a movie rental? That’s a bit steep, isn’t it?

Of course, I have to post my good deed of supporting the arts on Facebook. Mark will see it and know how conscientious I am. And if not him, someone will know that I’m a pretentious art snob and will think I’m cool. Maybe I should delete it – it’s a bit self-serving. But isn’t all social media?

I love dance movies – there’s something so intoxicating about dance films that are really just a massive turn on. That guy is going to have terrible knees when he gets older.

4 May 2020:

Normal People


I can’t breathe. My heart aches. I’m having a panic attack. I can’t stop sobbing. I cry into my pillow so no one hears me. When I turned this show on, I thought it was a bit cringe. But now my shirt is soaked from my tears. I wasn’t expecting to literally relive my traumas tonight. I only watched this show because everyone kept saying how good it was – god, they didn’t say it was going to rip my heart out!

I hate this programme. I want to be close to someone. I want someone to love me. I don’t want my heart to be broken anymore. What is wrong with me? Why are people so mean to me? What did I do in a past life to have deserved this bad luck? I don’t want to be alone anymore, but I know I’m going to be alone forever.

Oh my god, I can’t breathe. Deep breaths. In and out. I haven’t watched something that has affected me this much in years. It just hit too close to home. Where’s my Ativan? I need to stop crying. My skin hurts. Why did I watch that?

I wake up the next morning, feeling hungover from crying so much. I can’t stop thinking about this show for another month.

6 May 2020:

Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo

I’m horny and sad. I haven’t seen a man since February. I miss Mark – what is his problem? The BFI Player has a collection just called ‘Sex’. Guess that will have to do.

17 May 2020:

Spirited Away

Wholesome. Lovely. I’m only watching happy movies for now on. Or maybe just Totoro – yeah, definitely just Totoro. No more sad stuff. “You’re a big baby.” Hilarious.

I’m going to call my doctor tomorrow to do something about this depression. I can’t take it anymore.

20 May 2020:

ZackScottGames plays Animal Crossing: New Horizons

I’m so depressed. I’m overwhelmed. I feel like the world is closing in on me. I can’t stop worrying: when will I get a job; why am I a failure; I’m not getting anything done; why can’t I maintain relationships with people; I’m just sitting around all day; I take too many naps; I need to do something. But I can’t do anything. People on Twitter won’t stop talking about Animal Crossing. It looks so wholesome and lovely to play.

But I can’t afford to get it. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of Youtube and have somehow ended up in the world of gamers. I watch this guy Zack play Animal Crossing. It is pretty relaxing. And his voice is very soothing. And look at how sweet the animals are. You just do your chores and take care of your villagers.

I’m addicted to watching gamers play Animal Crossing. I leave Zack’s videos on while I sleep. I dream of Isabella and Ankha and turnips and catching bugs, as the videos seep into my subconscious mind. I leave his videos playing during the day to keep me company.

1 June 2020:

The Beautiful World of Jeffree Star

I have my first proper, really bad hangover. God, I feel like I’m actually dying. I’m going to throw up.

Maybe I have Coronavirus? In all honesty, I didn’t drink that much last night. Oh God, here comes another wave. It’s definitely Coronavirus.

I can’t move. I’m just going to watch Youtube videos all day. I’ve somehow been turned on to Shane Dawson. This kid that was one of my best friends in middle school loved Shane Dawson; I never saw the appeal. But his new content is pretty good.

Oh my God, Jeffree Star is a character, isn’t he? What is this madness? This is incredible. I mean not a work of cinematic genius, but entertaining, nonetheless. I’m only watching mindless, feel-good content for now on.

I feel better. It wasn’t Coronavirus.

30 June 2020:


Oh my God, Shane Dawson and Jeffree Star just got CANCELLED! Good thing I watched all their videos before they became taboo.

1 July 2020:

Tea Spill: “These beauty gurus aren’t addressing this…”

I can’t stop watching drama videos on YouTubers! The beauty community is losing it. Is this all a conspiracy to sell more makeup pallets? Has this been orchestrated by PR companies? The timing is just too perfect. What

is James Charles going to say? Why did Shane do that

crazy Instagram live? Where the hell is Jeffree???

The modern celebrity. A welcomed distraction from reality.

3 July 2020:

Lungs, Old Vic: In Camera

Things are starting to go back to ‘normal’. What is normal anymore?

I’m working for people who don’t believe the virus is real. That puts me at risk of bringing it home to my parents. I feel like I need to do something; I haven’t done anything in 3 months. But is it worth putting my family at risk because these people think the liberals are just “making it up to ruin business.” But I want a routine back, to be productive again, to not be stuck inside sleeping all day, so I’ll keep the job for now.

The Old Vic is broadcasting a live, socially distanced play with Claire Foy and Matt Smith over Zoom. I wanted to see this play when it was on in London (or in New York, but the run got cancelled). It’s pretty strange to be laying in my bed, waiting on Zoom to watch two of our generation’s best actors perform world-class theatre – over conference call software. But I miss the theatre so much. I miss museums and galleries. I miss London. I miss living.

My heart hurts for the arts and culture sector. I’m so sad that these institutions are suffering. They have changed my life, inspired me, taught me how to live and love. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the arts. And no one cares if it dies. I don’t have money to donate, but I want to spare £15 to support a theatre that has provided me with so many incredible and moving experiences over the years. Plus, I get to be a part of this bizarre new way of producing live theatre. Is that too pretentious?

18 July 2020:

Formula 1: Drive to Survive

I’ve rekindled a friendship from high school. It’s strange because I haven’t spoken with her in 5 years, but it feels like we’ve been friends forever. I’m going to work hard to not push her away, to stay engaged with a friendship instead of getting self-conscious and paranoid.

She comes over to mine for the weekend. It’s the first time I’ve spent time with another person since February. We spend most of the time at home – I talk too much, overshare. I wonder what she thinks of me?

She asks if I watch Formula One. Why would I watch motorsports? She tells me I need to watch this show on Netflix about the Formula One drivers: “those men are so hot!” We watch the whole first season together. I have to agree, the men are very attractive. But, to be fair to the sport, it is more than just men driving really fast in circles.

I definitely didn’t have “become an F1 fan” on my 2020 bingo card.

19 July 2020:

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Kennedy left; alone again. I definitely talked too much. She probably won’t want to be friends with me anymore because I’m so annoying. Why do I keep doing this? Why can’t I just be normal around other people? I definitely drank too much; she’s probably judging me for how sloppy I got. This is why people don’t want to be friends with me – I’m so stupid.

I’m hormonal and bloated. I’ve had yet another writing pitch rejected; I should just give up. It’s literally 98 degrees outside. I hate summer. I just want to stare at Bowie’s perfectly symmetrical face to make me feel better.

I love this film.


All writing, all images © The Imagining History Programme UK

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