Browsing Tag

isolation

2020 Contributing Writers Creative Pieces Pandemic Prose

The Rabbit Hole

Written by Caroline Goldberg Igra

I grip the edges of the hole into which I was most brutally pitched weeks ago, and peer over the edge, squinting to block out the impossibly bright light of the sun. I struggle to adjust to what used to be normal and the blurry forms before me begin to take shape, surprising me with their familiarity. The world just outside is one that I recognize; indeed, it’s the very same one I left behind. Still, the idea of resuming the life I was living seems out of the question. How will I ever regain what I have lost? How can I possibly move forward, knowing what I have missed?

I duck my head back inside. It’s safe in here. I’m not sure I’m ready to venture outside. I wander through the chambers, the rooms of my home, finding comfort in what has become my new reality; each space assuming an altered significance, providing a newly-defined need. Fact is, I kind of like it here. What I was sure would be depressing, a mausoleum of lost opportunity, has become the opposite. My life in the deep belly of my home is more than a little wonderful.

I consider whether it’s really worth considering the leap beyond into the new unknown. Maybe it won’t be as terrific as everyone says, maybe it will disappoint by being the same as it’s always been. I need to figure that out. I crawl back up toward the light, plant both hands firmly, and lift my shoulders above the rim, this time taking more than a peek. Scanning the view before me, I find something new. There’s color everywhere. I hadn’t noticed that the first time, when I was still trying to adjust to the light, to focus. Yet now the spectacular rainbow of color–pinks, reds, purples, oranges, and yellows–is impossible to miss. Spring has come without any fanfare, insisting on its inevitability despite humanity’s forced absence. 

Down I go. I’m not ready. I don’t need all that color. I wouldn’t know what to do with it. In any case, I’ve managed to find my own glorious kind of color right here. My kingdom is bursting with multiplicity, shot through with brilliant points of light, heaving and breathing with discovery, exploration, connection, and self-realization. The feelings of isolation, abandonment, and mourning I’d expected when this whole journey began are nowhere to be found. In their stead is a wealth created from sheer willpower, the human need to thrive. My need to thrive. I’ve spent six weeks frolicking in worlds I’d never thought to explore, never taken the time to explore–expanding my mind, challenging my palette, breathing life into words I’d thought exhausted and reigniting connections long dormant. I’ve crossed more borders from within than I ever could have from without. This new world, one of my own design, beautifully competes with the one that is waiting just beyond, challenging its ability to make me smile and laugh; to make me want to get up in the morning. 

Again, I wonder if I’m better off staying put. It’s so hard to decide. I tap the font of renewed strength these last six weeks have provided and force myself to leave the comfort of my very own, now even more beloved, home, launching myself into the new unknown, the one everyone’s talking about, the one everyone has been waiting for. One hearty push and I’ve crossed the border that has protected me. I’m outside. The colors I spotted earlier rush at me from all sides, overwhelming me with their presence, insisting on being noticed. They’re inordinately enticing, so hard to resist. They welcome me back. “You made it!” And while, oh so tempting, exactly what I’d desperately craved when this all began, I hesitate. The magnetic pull of the richness I’ve left behind is too strong to ignore. I glance back over my shoulder at the place from which I’ve come. It’s equally appealing and holds a promise the outside world cannot provide. I turn my back on the beyond and jump back to safety. This rabbit hole is complex and twisted, flawed, and imperfect, but it’s eternally mine.

Caroline Goldberg Igra has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in international, academic art history journals, a book on the work of WWII artist J. D. Kirszenbaum (Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2013) and a novel, “Count to a Thousand,” (Mandolin Publishing, 2018). Caroline blogs for the Times of Israel.

2020 Art Contributing Creators Pandemic Photography

Masked Figure

Photos by Thomas Pickarski

As a traditional landscape artist, recently I yearned to create a visually stunning yet meaningful installation on the landscape. In my photographic Masked Figure series, a human figure depicting reptilian characteristics is portrayed as both witness and victim to the disappearance of life as we know it.

Masked Figure no. 4

Masked Figure no. 5
2020 Article Contributing Writers Pandemic Prose

On Seeking Joy in a Vacuum

Written by Madison Kerlan

I swallow joy in pill-capsules, two a night, hoping that while I sleep—if I sleep—the joy will seep into the empty cavities of my body and stop my bones from trembling in the morning when my dreams of somewhere else dissolve into the reality of here and now—of an entire planet perched precariously on the edge of collapse, gravity distended. Early, before my alarm prods the sleep away, my partner crawls over my blanket-coddled body, an apparition clouded by my night-swept eyelashes, drifting off to work in the remote office of our living room. I smell that smell belonging to only them and think they may someday be the love of my life; I hear a hush, go back to sleep. Go back to sleep, they insist. Joy should live in my chest, wrapped tight against the flesh and pulsing arteries of my heart, but it doesn’t. I lay in bed alone, wondering what the future looks like suspended in the abyss of uncertainty, eyes pointed at the ceiling till my alarm prods my body into mechanical motion.

Winter blends into spring. You can see the fault lines separating and binding them at once, if you look closely: early spring is cold as winter but more hopeful, usually. The tulips in the lawn of my childhood home will bloom soon, usually. Petals crack the skin of the ground. The skin of my knuckles bleed from too much hand washing and not enough lotion. I sit cross-legged with bandaged fingers in unkempt grass, in the lawn of the house I will inhabit for two months—till I have somewhere else to go. An empty carton of almond milk and an empty carton of cigarettes sit a few meters off. I watch the cartons in silence, feeling a beam of sunlight grace the back of my unshaven neck. I wonder who brought them here to commiserate with me and the broken lawn chair at my side, with the tattered seat. You’ve seen some shit, I offer. For a moment, the breeze rustles the dry twigs of the skeleton bushes. We all sit together, thinking about circumstance. Spring blends into winter. I’ve lost track of the days of the week. 

For years, I’ve been collecting joy in Polaroids, a jar of fireflies tucked away on the bookshelf for later. I shake the photo album out onto the carpet to remind myself of it. The joy seeps between my fingers as I hold the corners of the film loose and buzzing in my palms: joy is driving nowhere and ending up in another state just because you can—just because you’re young and the world can afford to unbuckle you from its machinery for twenty-four hours of wandering, of going somewhere else, says a photo of my best friends and I standing, arms raised, on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Joy is a lonely vending machine on the outskirts of town, the pin in the map marking the origin of a proper, rural adventure, says a photo of my favorite person sitting in gravel, can of Sprite in hand, tab popped. Joy is a pair of gardening gloves, roller-skating pads, and a tangled heap of climbing rope, says a photo of a childhood friend crouched beneath the trestle of an abandoned canal bridge, victorious.

Joy is sitting on the balcony alone after midnight, eyeing streetlamps pinpricked along distant roads that curve out of focus.

Joy is in the pinpricks of the fading stick ‘n’ poke on my thigh, dotted by a friend of a friend while I crunched ice cubes horizontal on her kitchen floor. 

Joy is the slap of wet footsteps echoing toward us, a stranger in briefs with an invitation to jump into the lake and the exchange of silent, agreeing nods that follows.

Joy is the crackle of a blown car stereo, resilient against the crescendo of volume.

Joy is the orange of a stolen traffic cone peeking out of the trunk—that gleefully welcomed fifth passenger.

Joy is a misplaced cigar on the dark and grassy crest of Flagstaff Hill, the smoke obscuring low-voiced stories shared in confidence.

Joy is a spoonful of honey and blackberry jam spread thick over buttery morning toast. 

Joy is my mother waiting for me at the edge of the airport terminal, the descent from the escalator and into her arms.

Joy is drive-thru sherbet in the insurmountable heat of summer; leaving pennies on railroad tracks and waiting, cross-legged for hours, ears tuned to the whistle of the next commercial train on its way somewhere else; a beer on the roof of the family bar, waiting up for the long-awaited Sunday sunrise after my last shift of the week.

I lay on the carpet like a chalk outline, lined with evidence of joy. Gathering the photos in my hands, I return the fireflies to their plastic album sleeves—all but one: joy is my grandmother’s wide grin, a black jellybean pressed to her front tooth, says a photo of us holding one another behind the bar counter. Today is her birthday and we are not celebrating this year because she has been dead for months. The illusion dissipates in a plume of smoke. I find the world still ablaze outside my window. I leave the bedroom to join the almond milk, the Marlboros, and the busted lawn chair, eating the blackberries I used to pluck from her garden bushes and watching over deserted city streets, the image of an impending dystopia, the air stale and timeless. To touch a memory does not emulate joy. It emulates the desire for joy. 

I wonder how my desire for joy fits into the puzzled frame of a global crisis; how desire spoils rancid when people around you are dying in the past and the present and the future. When the clouds loom and the city is painted in ruins, overcast and forgotten in isolation. When the grass reaches unkempt and untrampled around your bare ankles, pleading for company. When a centipede steals into the dark polyester of the bedsheets, seeking refuge from somewhere else: you’ve seen some shit, I offer, extending a broken hand. When the posters peel from the ceiling; a mounted record shatters against the dresser; the television grows fussy; the strings of lights swing from the doorframe during the night, which is too quiet even with the windows propped open. It’s an extended metaphor, my partner says. 

We sit on the third step of a wooden-railed staircase, an appendage of the deserted bedroom of a former housemate. Smoke twists and drifts in tendrils rising from a spiraled glass bowl, a potent dose of bud that could be medical grade but isn’t. Stars pocket the space of the sky and I lean back against the ridges of wooden planks, breathing. The constellations seem to line themselves tonight, stars extending, joining hands in a galactic game of connect the dots. My knees bump against the knees beside me, important knees, cherished knees, their knees. They have been talking for a while about the world and its intricate mechanics—about everything and nothing in particular at once—emptying vessels of thoughts like glistening nectar beneath the moonlight. I watch the way their mouth moves as they speak, their upper lip tugging, energized by the bud and a lowered guard. The canvas of stars lines the profile of their face, cross-illuminated by the lamp sitting warm behind the basement windowsill and the lights of tired trucks rumbling down empty 3am highways, en route somewhere else. This is a nice memory, they say at last, clasping my knee, head tilted upward. I feel joy for the first time in weeks and I hold onto it tight, arms wrapped around their shoulders in the silent hum of the evening, the soothing rush of the wind.

Every so often, joy turns up in the crevices of small moments, looking only slightly different from before. I can feel it in the familiar laughter of my therapist over the phone; in my professor introducing their dog in the last thirty seconds of a pre-recorded lecture; in wearing overalls and sandals on the porch; in the morning fire alarm sounding like clockwork when my partner fries bacon; in rolling over into them in the middle of the night and being lulled back to sleep by the rhythm of their rising chest; in the words I love you ringing from my best friend’s mouth; in smoking a joint with my housemates, wrapped in blankets from the couch; in watching the reliable sunrise seep through the bedroom window; in listening to music with the forgotten blades of grass and the trash on the back lawn. The world may feel different, but the air is the same and every evening the stars return to the sky again. Joy is tender, fragile, and fleeting, but joy is not gone. If you’re quiet, you can still find joy at the bottom of a pot of coffee or between the folds of fresh linens, in the breeze of a mild afternoon or waiting at the edge of the porch steps after rainfall, in the echo of a familiar voice and the brush of cherished knees against your own, nudging your mind alive, reminding you of what remains in the rubble. To desire joy amid suffering is to remain hopeful for all that is left.

Madison Kerlan studies non-fiction writing and gender. They are a staff writer for Sampsonia Way Magazine.