Gloomy bookend celebration time! Back in March, as kids first began feeling out the words “shelter in place,” I started a free pandemic newspaper by and for children and teens. Six Feet of Separation—they named it—launched with a 10-year-old’s passionately ambivalent “School’s Out!” essay on the cover, plus quarantine-themed Mad Libs, some shoe-leather reporting on restaurant closures, tips on next-level squabbling with your homebound sibling, a cat’s perspective on pandemic living, and other investigations of the shut-in lifestyle.
A great many articles and 4 million psychic implosions later, well, everyone’s still shut in. But it’s fall and school-by-Zoom has started up, and if you think Six Feet of Separation sleeps on easy symmetry, you clearly don’t have our number. (We don’t have a number. We don’t even know how to resize our own fonts.)
Why should a person read a 5-year-old’s assessment of Easter or an 11-year-old’s warning about the intersecting crises of quarantine and invasive species? Because (1) you can’t bear to read about coronavirus in grown-up tones anymore and, more important, (2) these are the people being actively shaped by this catastrophe. I need only remind you of your taciturn grandfather, whose brief deployment during the war shaped him—and then his kids! And theirs!—for decades.
In its slapdash, wildly uneven way, Six Feet aims for a real-time reading of what’s happening in young people’s hearts and heads. When, in a few short years, they cease being young people and take the helm of this whole bedeviled enterprise, the historians will have a handy record of their formative period.
The paper isn’t only about the pandemic, just as the pandemic isn’t only about the pandemic. Since Six Feet’s launch, contributors have watched the biggest story of their lifetimes fracture into many biggest stories of their lifetimes, involving systemic racism, and protests, and wildfires, and a pivotal election, and more. The kids have done what journalists everywhere do: snack. And then write.
As a working journalist, I feel compelled to address some concerns about the paper. Many worry that Six Feet filters the world through callow eyes—that it randomly reports on the protests in Belarus while saying nothing about Mitch McConnell, or abruptly shifts its attention from the coronavirus to Rockin’ Breakfast Burrito recipes. These are well-founded worries.
Please read it anyway, starting with the following half-dozen short pieces. Each is a keyhole into a world, one being molded in ways I don’t believe we fully understand yet. Rather than being passively buffeted by this moment, these young people are staking out active roles in it. I love them all, and I find their work genuinely impressive. All due respect to Woodward and Bernstein, but they didn’t even touch Watergate until they were fully through puberty and could probably prepare their own meals.
By Frances Novak, 10
I wake up. I am Frances, I have been depressed ever since this “oh wear a mask and wash your hands” thing happened. I think of all the good times I had in the old days and I take sad showers and sad walks. I take a Pop-Tart. The Pop-Tart, so innocent, and then I eat it.
I ask my parents if I can go hang out with my friends they sigh and say “no.” I want to punch someone or something. I take a walk without caring to tell my mom or dad. The walk is silent. All I can hear is my breathing. This mask makes me claustrophobic. The walk is slow and sad, I put on my hood sadly. I think of all the good days without A MASK. I go back home and I want to sleep, maybe if I sleep I will wake up and not have to wear a mask and I will finally be able to hug anyone I want.