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2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Where are those smiles?

Written by Bhuwan Thapaliya

Sitting in my living room
watching the slits of moonlight
peeping through the louvered window,
I sip a cup of lemon tea and get nostalgic.
Vivid pictures of tiny toddlers
going to the school
holding their grandparent’s hand
dances before me.
And the emancipated smile
on the face of a woman
driving an electric tempo
in the streets of Kathmandu teases me.
I am missing seeing an elderly man
having tea and happily gossiping
with his friends at the roadside tea stalls,
a yard away from his children’s reverie.
And I desperately miss looking
at an old Nepalese woman
in her traditional attire feeding pigeons at
Hanumandhoka Durbar Square
with dancing pigeons all around.
I am missing the glimpses of a normal life.
Where are those smiles?
I toss and turn in my bed
hundred times every night
as the clouds that
roars and mumbles in the sky.
I toss and turn.
Horrid images of children
with no childhood
flashes before my eye.
No tangible relief in sight.


Nepalese poet, Bhuwan Thapaliya is the author of four poetry collections and is currently working on his fresh poetry collection, The Marching Millions.  His main theme often hinges around the globalization of love, peace, and universal solidarity. His poems and articles have been widely published in such journals and periodicals such as Kritya, The Foundling Review,  Strong Verse, Pratik, Taj Mahal Review, Nuveine Magazine, Poetry Life and Times, VOICES ( Education Project), The Vallance Review, Longfellow Literary Project, The Global Politician, and Poets Against the War.

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

Restless

Written by Ange LaGoj

I cannot sleep. It is 2 AM, I am exhausted, but a hot, screeching, soul agonizing scream wants to burst forth from my chest. After months of washing my hands, wearing a mask, avoiding unnecessary social gatherings, I am being called back to the classroom. I’m confused. What changed? Has the virus dissipated? Did its mode of transmission change? Did the school buildings that the governor deemed as obsolete and/or unsafe for children change shape? How is it that some educators can teach remotely from home, but I am denied that privilege? Is their life more valuable than mine? 

The virus “that has changed the world” prevails. There are upticks in Europe – Italy, Spain, France. There is a new hot spot – India. Thousands of tests come back positive daily in the United States. Clusters of infections arise throughout New York. 

As I attend four days of professional development in preparation for one hundred and eighty days of uncertainty, anxiety, and risk, college campuses in New York have opened and shut down in a matter of a few days.

I sat in a classroom with nine of my colleagues – mask and shield on, 6 feet apart –  listening to half-formed directives about teaching live and at a distance simultaneously, keeping accurate attendance records of 3 groups (hybrid live, hybrid remote, all remote), maneuvering two devices in order to share my screen with the students in front of me and those permitted to stay home without revealing confidential records, providing high-quality instruction as well as social-emotional learning, identifying visible signs of COVID in our students, maintaining constant communication with parents, devising ways to assess students equitably, fulfilling IEP accommodations, allowing students mask breaks periodically throughout the day, directing one-way traffic in the hallways while reminding students to face front and pull their masks up, cleaning the desks in between periods, covering classes and monitoring students while our colleagues are out getting tested for COVID. 

My mind is in a fog. I read commentary online about how teachers like me don’t want to go back to work. We are lazy. We like sitting at home in our pajamas. We don’t understand that our role is to monitor kids as their parents work. It’s unjust that we have been doing this job for years and now we don’t want to do it anymore. 

We are misunderstood. The truth is that I love teaching so much that I cannot sleep over what is happening to it. I was upset that I could not plan my units and lessons this summer. (I was not sure about what I was teaching until two days ago.) The truth is that I miss interacting with my students. This year, I will not be able to approach them to help with their work, encourage or comfort them. I cannot give them prizes or share celebrations with them. I cannot provide paper or pens. I will be 6 feet away and on the other end of a Google Meet. I will not be able to see their puzzled frowns change to enlightenment. They will be smiling behind their mask or maybe at home. I will continue to miss them. 

I will also miss my niece. She is two months old; a premature baby. She doesn’t have all of her vaccinations yet. Her immunity is low. I will be babysitting high school students while she grows up. When I see her – 10 months from now, after a 2-week quarantine and a COVID test, she will not recognize me. 

I am hoping to have children of my own someday. I am turning thirty-four in October – one year before any potential pregnancy is deemed high-risk. I am on fertility medication that will have to be suspended if/ when I contract the virus. I wonder and worry about the possible long term effects that COVID has on bodily functions. While I am teaching/babysitting, I may be risking the lives of my possible future babies. 

I will miss my husband if and when I contract the virus. He is immunocompromised – a type 1 Diabetic. COVID might be inconvenient, a little flu, for ordinary people like us (K-12 teachers and students) but for him, it could be deadly. 

I need health insurance. I cannot quit a ten-year investment and find work “at McDonald’s or Dunkin Donuts” as some people have suggested to teachers who are worried about returning to school buildings to watch over teenagers as their parents work “essential” jobs. 

Therefore, I will report to the school building in a couple of days. I will sit in a classroom (will it be disinfected?) with my colleagues, wearing a mask and foggy glasses under an echoing shield. I will know that our counterparts – ten teachers from a nearby school-  who were supposed to be sitting in a similar configuration are now at home, in quarantine, because they have already been exposed to the virus. I cannot make sense of this situation. This defies logic. The tormented scream lives lodged in my throat. It wakes me up at night.

I was once bright and enthusiastic about teaching. I loved World Languages (my subject) and adolescents (my target audience) so much that I invested thousands of dollars and years (fertile years) of my life to nurturing this career and serving the society and the community that demands my presence in the building while the pandemic rages on. I am deeply disturbed. I am fighting the shrieking scream of logic. I cannot rest.


Ange LaGoj is a high school Italian teacher who majored in English years ago, and wrote for her college newspaper. During a recent bout of spiritual restlessness, she found her way back to writing.

2020 Contributing Writers Pandemic Poetry

Dead Mother

Written by Debadrita Sur

I watched your mother take her last breath
I looked into her eyes as she struggled to eat last night
She wanted a glass of water
She cried when they refused- this made me laugh
They looked at me with pure disgust in their eyes.
“Have you no pity?” they spat.
I smiled in response to their hate.

I watched your mother take her last breath
It was exciting to say the least
As night fell, I saw her gasping for air
Reaching out to the nearest table, trying to grab the pump
I sat up on my bed, enthusiastic
She was finally being set free
From the dreadful shackles of life

I watched your mother take her last breath
But I felt no remorse
The ones next to me trembled in fear and said their prayer
While I looked straight into her ebony eyes
I do not know who she is, I do not know her name
I know not what she accomplished in life
What lies beneath that fragile frame.

I watched your mother take her last breath
She called out a few names
While the nurses shed tears and held her back
In my heart, I felt a tingling pain
I wonder who will watch me die
I wonder if someone will be there to write
How I tried to breathe for one last time

I watched your mother take her last breath
Horizontal lines bade her goodbye
They ripped out the pipes that supported her
They wrapped her in plastic before our eyes
Concealing her from the curious multitude
Treating her like the waste she is
Waiting to throw her in the nearby landfill

I watched your mother take her last breath
Sick and degenerate, we are nothing but junk
Clad in hazmat suits and gas masks
They are waiting for us to die
Even in my deathbed, I feel even more alive
To think you would give anything
To be here right now instead of me.

You are crying and screaming- where is your closure?
You were not allowed to see your mother- was it the fear of exposure?
I did: I saw her as she writhed, before being overcome by quietude
As they wheel me towards the ventilation room, silence overpowers me
Amidst the pipes and nozzles, a conceited smirk one can see
Your mother lies among millions dumped- what an ill fate
Yes, I was the one who watched your mother take her last breath.


Debadrita Sur is a 20-year-old student of English Literature at Presidency University, Kolkata. She is a serial procrastinator who dreams of traveling the world, swimming with sharks, and finding inner peace someday!

2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic

A Love Island-Based Quarantine

Written by Maeve Barry 

I’ve spent quarantine in my childhood bedroom, surrounded by dolls and dog hair and relics of my twelve-year-old self that now smell like mildew; only disrupted by the addition of a heavy-duty vibrator and a pack of cigarettes hidden in my desk drawer. Conversely: I have spent my quarantine in a self-proclaimed ‘luxury villa’ that is certainly large, yet filled with obscenely tacky signage, hot pink throw pillows, and highly unflattering, neon lighting. 

My luxury villa is in Spain. It is supposedly proximal to a glamorous beach, but we only ever swim in the pool. We spend the majority of our time in a makeup room, crowding around personalized vanities, gluing on our drooping lashes. Any conversation of consequence is held in an unmarked and dreary hallway that no one has bothered to decorate. It is only a staging area. 

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, I’ve been watching a truly abhorrent amount of Love Island UK. I left Brooklyn in March to quarantine with my mom in the house that I haven’t lived in since I was twelve. I’ve now been here nearly four and a half months. Four and a half months, during which I’ve spent roughly 271 hours in a luxury villa, or eleven(ish) entire days. I gained access to my villa through a friend’s Hulu Student account. I found my villa after taking an edible, feeling hopeless and terrified and like I (and the world around me) was spiraling out of control. I wanted something that would make me feel nothing. And so I found myself saying ‘litchrally’ and ‘baantor’ and ‘mugged off’ for four and a half months, surrounded by men whose veins contain not blood but Creatine and women with gravity-defying tits. I found myself on Love Island

Each episode of Love Island UK follows a distinct and predictable rhythm. An episode never leaves me anxious, but ends with enough suspense that I continue to click ‘Next Episode’ without hesitation, without ever waiting out the credits. Like chain-smoking. The narrator makes the same jokes every night. He is barely funny but makes me smile. He mocks the contestants just enough so I don’t feel crazy; I am not alone in the madness. 

The premise of the series is that it barely has one. ‘Hot’ ‘Singles’ live in a house together and hook up and accuse one another of “playing a game” which is literally (litchrally) what they’re all required to do. They are dumped and recoupled and all want to stay in the villa for as long as possible. Because the longer they stay in the villa, the greater their chance of being involved in an Instagram pyramid scheme after leaving, or of winning 50,000 euros. 

Here is the beauty of Love Island UK: I am not even remotely interested in participating in the world it presents. In fact, I am thrilled to be far away from a villa with migraine-inducing lighting, filled with enormous and terrifying men who seem mere seconds away from punching a hole through any available walls. The Islanders are constantly sunburned, consistently in conflict, almost always yelling. They are surrounded by people and exchanging fluid and I am not even remotely jealous. I am, for a change, thrilled to be shut away in my room and removed from these shockingly toned, relentlessly confrontational individuals. 

When I began my Love Island journey, I found the contestants to be refreshing. They are unconcerned with pretense or with appearing mysterious and restrained. They are loud and bold and unabashedly proud of their bodies. They appear to have healthy levels of serotonin and don’t feel that they must be missing something in order to feel happy. Thus, I am not tasked with ever having to watch or reflect upon myself. I hate my body and consistently worry about seeming stupid. I think about the bars at which I stood uncomfortably in Bushwick, prior to Covid, surrounded by very mean boys wearing very small hats. All they want is to seem like they don’t notice people and to smoke cigarettes very quietly. 

On Love Island, all anyone wants is to be noticed. In the first seasons, before it was clear the show would become an enormous commercial success, before anyone was concerned with Instagram deals or regulations or privacy, contestants chain smoked and drank and sobbed and fucked constantly. They were entirely unconcerned with ‘holding back.’ They bought each other tacky and earnest anklets before tearing them off and hurling them into the pool. 

This suited me well at the beginning of quarantine. I smoked and cried most of the time. I could hardly make it through the day without an edible. No matter how terribly I was behaving by my parent’s standards (which I was now required to live by), someone on Love Island was behaving even worse. I was a voyeur of their misery, but they also never seemed to feel that miserable. They bounce back quickly because that is simply the arc of an episode. I attempted to follow suit. 

During those first few seasons, everyone had sex on camera. I felt like the man in Rear Window as I watched synchronized, thrusting sheets filmed on a grainy, infrared camera. The beauty of these sex scenes is, to me at least, that they aren’t even a little bit erotic. The sex is almost always hurried and missionary; sans meaningful glances, mood music, a lingering hand. It is the kind of sex I’m glad to no longer have the option of participating in. 

This stood in stark contrast to shows like Normal People, which I also watched during quarantine, which made me absolutely miserable. In Normal People, the sex was well lit and romantic. It was motivated by feeling and intimacy and complexity. It reinforced every feeling I was attempting to turn off. I unblocked the phone number of an abusive ex for the first time in six months after watching a single episode of Normal People, months of progress spiraling down the drain. I saw my depression and trauma and past relationships and the kindness that I wanted and never received, and during a pandemic could not receive, blaring through my laptop into my lonely childhood bedroom. I clicked out and went back to my island. 

A personal trainer recited a five-line, rhyming poem about dating and pie. Everyone cheered and called him a genius. I was okay again. I have never once unblocked an ex’s phone number watching Love Island. 

As the show gained widespread public attention, its budget increased and the series became more polished. It lost the chain-smoking and the drinking and most of the fucking. But by this point of quarantine, so I had I. I had found a way to be palatable. I accomplished this by becoming numb. Love Island’s repressing and regulating coincided with my own quarantine transition, one marked by the collective realization that this would last, that our profit-hungry society required that we be ‘productive’ while people died and hurt and were gone without recognition or eulogization. I upped my dosage of Prozac and put on pants in the morning. I re-entered a routine of making phone calls and waiting. 

And Love Island was waiting and it stuck to its routine and rhythm and ritual. What I could count on Love Island for was ensuring that I never need feel ‘too much.’ 

I began quarantine attempting to watch movies with subtitles and the movies that won awards that I pretended to have seen when talking to a condescending former film major in Greenpoint. I’ve always been inclined to rewatch movies and TV shows, to the extent that I have most of my regular rotation memorized verbatim. I always say this is so I need not worry whether they are good. More truthfully, this practice allows me to ensure that a film or show won’t force me to sit and watch my own depression or loss or trauma. If I’ve already seen something, I never run the risk of mistakenly watching an episode that includes sexual abuse and me consequentially spiraling for the entire, following week. 

I read on Twitter that re-watching movies/television at this obsessive amount is a symptom of anxiety, which makes sense. It also mirrors my cyclical and obsessive thought patterns that are a result of my persistent OCD. My thoughts cycle to avoid triggers. Cycling through TV/films serves the same purpose. During Covid, however, even my usual cycles of sitcoms felt risky. I’d remember someone terrible who I watched them with or I’d think about an episode I watched while getting ready for what turned into to be a terrifying or glorious night out. My mind wasn’t safe, and neither was most television. The only thing that felt consistently safe was Love Island. 

Contestants weren’t furious with themselves for not writing or applying to graduate school or calling their friends back or being in love. They were satisfied doing exactly as they were. I watched parents come to the villa towards the end of each season and cry and tell their children how proud they were of them for chain-smoking and screaming and throwing lawn furniture into pools. I found this to be incredibly reassuring. 

During every episode of Love Island, contestant’s very best friends and the potential loves of their lives are kicked off of the Island. Everyone is initially very sad, and then they bounce a scene later. They aren’t allowed the time to repress or to bury or avoid. They are sent into their confessional for a tearful interview, to identify their feelings, to leave them there and behind. 

We are living in, and over the past months recognized that we have been living in, a system that not only accepts but necessitates that human lives are disposable and expendable. Contestants on Love Island (of course to a less violent or dangerous degree) reflected this practice of disposing of humans and abandoning empathy in order to function within a game, status quo, or system onto our television’s and computers for the past four months/ten years. 

There is a fine line between healthy escapism and numbing ourselves into complacency. The fact of the matter is, there is nothing ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ about cycling through people like expired cartons of milk or a face cream that ‘just isn’t the right fit.’ 

Although Love Island is reality television and is obviously not intended to serve as a blueprint for healthy human existence, the reality is that its contestants are people. And I finish each season, I find their Instagrams and learn that Islanders are no longer ‘madly in love’ and that their relationship lasted two months following filming in the most successful of cases. I’ve watched these contestants eat and sleep and fuck and cry for roughly forty-five hours. I forget about them just as quickly as I found them, in the amount of time required to backspace an Instagram handle in a search bar. 

Love Island UK began in 2015, but somehow those early seasons feel like they belong to an entirely distant and distinct decade’s past. Season six caught up with me and I was in 2020 on my island and I realized that the host, Caroline Flack, who I love because she always sided with the women Islanders who men called crazy, had killed herself. I then did some Googling and learned that she was the third Love Island cast member to kill themselves this year. Even Love Island was not immune to the loss and the reckoning associated with a year that continues to remind us that there is nothing healthy or safe about our ‘normal’ modes of existence. 

After learning of the suicide rates among Love Island contestants, it became more difficult, required more of a conscious effort, to lose myself into Love Island, and to briefly feel okay. Watching the living, former contestants travel to Ibiza and frequent night clubs and dine in restaurants on their Instagrams was no longer silly or charming, but actively violent during a global pandemic that requires distance and staying put. 

Watching ‘haul’ videos in which pretty people unload their boxes of luxury dog treats became less comical when placed in proximity to infographics regarding the countless Black people murdered every day by police and people forced to choose between housing and food and healthcare, if afforded the choice at all. And of course this had already been our reality. The contrast was simply highlighted when the collective consciousness of our media made a miniscule, yet notable, step towards reflecting it. 

None of this is to say that I have stopped watching Love Island. 

I currently fall asleep each night to women complaining about ‘blokes’ or to the slurping noises of ‘pashing.’ We are still in a pandemic and I still have anxiety and therefore return to my predictable island that always opens with a recap of the last episode and then a shutter- speed-close up of a distraught Islander’s face and then a still image of a consistently full moon. Love Island continues to serve its purpose of structure and release and escape, and also remains really fucking good TV. I am reminded, simply, that it should not and cannot act as an end-all escape or solution. Nothing can; whatever it is we’re avoiding will eventually come creeping back up and into our screens, like weeds, until we uproot them. 


Maeve Barry (she/her) is a writer and artist who moved from Los Angeles to Brooklyn last year. She teaches creative writing and painting to kids during the day and hangs out with her dogs most afternoons. You can find her on Instagram @maeveharkinscowboyatgmail.com  or Twitter @maevethecowboy!

2020 Contributing Creators Contributing Writers Pandemic Photography

Looking Through the Darkness

Photos and Text by Arkadeep Mitra

One look through the window, and it confirms that the world outside is still in a state of quarantine. The roads are deserted and the people out there are few and far between.

Working-from-home has become the new normal. While we continue convalescing from the effects of the deadly virus, unsure of what the future has in store for us, we find ourselves acclimatizing ourselves to this more shut-down lifestyle.

It is this uncertainty that has been central to our emotions and thought processes over the course of the last few months. Amongst the plethora of saddening news and negative developments around us, we have been swiveling inside the cycle of being down and depressed, to something more optimistic and back to being sad. Confined to the rigid walls of our homes, there is not much we can really do. It is during these dark times that I find myself drifting towards films, and books, and quietly hoping for them to take me to some far-off foreign land. A new place, different from the constructs we’re all stuck in.

On rare occasions I turn myself to my camera. Looking through the viewfinder, I somehow hope to catch something new in the rather familiar surroundings around me. The pictures I take in black-and-white are monochromatic like life itself, myself also devoid of colors.

I try to look through the pitch-black darkness outside. Sometimes I succeed in doing that. It gives me a thrill and I feel a little better, albeit for a minuscule moment.

Doing street-photography in these times has become quite challenging and carries a huge amount of risk. 

I try not to get bogged down by the limitations and use my Canon 1200D wherever and whenever I possibly can. I look for hours and hours out of the window, gazing at the ever-changing cloudscape, the setting sun, the bright moon and the occasional airplanes flying in the sky, free.

By switching to my handy zoom-lens, I manage to capture the far-off things easily. In my eyes though, they too are devoid of any real colors. I shoot them in monochrome only to saturate them with excess colors in post-processing. It looks a little unreal, but then isn’t what we’ve been experiencing a little unreal too?

Feelings of loneliness and seclusion have often been central to our feelings during the lockdown period. To make myself less lonely, I try to consume myself, watching an unhealthy number of films and relentlessly obsessing about them. More often than not, it’s all for a lost cause as I again look out aimlessly and long for companionship and intimate conversations. 

Watching and analyzing a huge amount of movies has influenced my photography in a lot of ways. For example, my preferred mode for shooting pictures has become the landscape mode, usually in a very cinematic 16:9 aspect ratio. Also, I keep yearning for more drama in the pictures I click. 

However it very rarely comes out the way I imagine it in my head, which in turn leads to disappointment. 

Throughout my photography, I have refused to conform to a particular style or form. Always experimenting, I am perpetually on the search for a style that I could and would stand by.

But as I keep clicking more and more pictures, I realize that one cannot just choose a style for themselves. In the course of making images, the style chooses them. One does not have to force it. Till that moment though, I shall keep trying different approaches and methods in making pictures. Hopefully, my own distinct style will break out soon. 

Growing up, I had a natural affinity towards good artworks. I’d stare with awe at the paintings and with time, I learned to appreciate them. However, I wasn’t particularly talented with the paintbrush in my hand. Nor was I good at poetry. Not even sculpting.

So, I looked to other mediums to satisfy my artistic desire. That medium turned out to be photography, and the camera became my paintbrush. I caught on to it like a house on fire. Immensely curious, I’d spend hours every day learning about this beautiful device called the digital camera. 

My primary method of shooting photographs involves going out on long photowalks, on the most crowded of streets and shooting amid the utter chaos, in an act of uncomplicated honesty.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to indulge in this during the ongoing lockdown. There was only so much I could do inside the confines of my home.

While photographing things, I don’t really start-off with a lot of frames in my mind. The shooting process comes rather naturally to me. I tend to walk a lot and whenever an interesting object pops up, I take out my camera and frame it.

Technical details don’t matter as much to me as long as there’s a heart and soul to the photo. It’s only during processing later, that I really look at the pictures, analyzing them, and unearthing the hidden meaning behind it. 

I’m self-confessedly not the happiest person out there, and I don’t go out looking to capture pictures with a particular theme either. But as I’ve realized during the course of my two years of photography, there have been certain themes that continue to be present.

These themes, as I’ve analyzed, include feelings of isolation and loneliness in the modern city.

Especially at a time when we are legally prohibited from going out and about for our daily routines, such feelings are sure to overwhelm us. I sometimes wonder what kind of lost universes I would capture if I actually decided to undertake the task of photographing the emptiness of the long and unending network of streets.

Probably nothing at all.


Arkadeep Mitra is a 20 year old photographer from Calcutta. As a very disillusioned engineering student, he often indulges in photography to escape the realities of life. 

Though refusing to conform to any particular genre, you can usually Arkadeep in the streets looking through the unlikeliest of angles trying to frame the unlikeliest of pictures.

You can contact him and view more of his works here:

Note: All the pictures were taken in Singapore (where I was fortunate to visit before the pandemic kicked in) and in my hometown of Calcutta, India before and during the course of global-lockdown. 

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