A UCA writing project
‘I’m mask’d, and all by myself on Massena avenue
And I’m lost.
Night’s cloak does not cover th’ pain of those streets,
And I’m lost—
All is at a halt, and my heart quivers— where is everyone?’
Je me souviens encore des rues vides vers six heures du matin, marchant vers mon ancien travail alimentaire l’année dernière. Tout était fermé, sauf les commerces dits essentiels. Certains me diraient pas de chance, mais d’autres, tant mieux. Mais il n’y avait aucun doute sur le spectacle singulier qu’était de pouvoir assister aux premiers effets du confinement. Un spectacle avec un arrière-goût amer. C’est donc en cet ‘’ anniversaire de confinement ‘’ que je resonge à ces rues vides plongé dans un noir matérialisant ce dépeuplement, qui normalement m’est de nature si rassurant.
Seuls mes bruits de pas résonnaient. Tout était si calme que j’avais peur de respirer trop fort. Même en courant, je retenais presque mon souffle. Jamais n’avais-je autant couru pour aller au travail auparavant. C’était mon besoin charnel cathartisant un jour par semaine, tous les dimanches matin. Un besoin de transpirer, de tout donner jusqu’au mal de dos et sortir du travail après sept heures non-stop de rayonnage, de tirages de palettes, de courtes et longues foulées dans un magasin presque vidé afin de me sentir exister. Afin de faire savoir à la vie que j’ai encore ma place dans le monde d’avant.
Pourtant, en ces pénombres matinales, je me sentais à ma place. Inébranlable malgré mon semi-burnout, une semaine avant. Le bon revers de la médaille de cette soudaine halte nationale, c’est que j’ai pu me reposer, au moins physiquement. Mais d’autres maux firent surface. Je suis enfin prêt à mettre des mots sur ces maux.
Nous sommes le 17 mars de l’année 2020. La France entière est confinée. Événement historique, terrible et inattendu. Beaucoup se réassurent. Deux semaines. Rien que deux semaines et après tout ira mieux. Mais il n’en fut rien.
Nous voilà sois confiné en famille, sois en concubinage, sois seul. À notre bon au mauvais gré, mais tous confiné. Pour ma part, j’étais seul. On pense se connaître. On pense savoir s’aimer et apprécier les moments de solitude, mais en vérité, c’est le choix qui nous fait apprécier les alternatives. Dans le monde d’avant, je pouvais la semaine être entouré d’étudiants, d’amis et de collègues de travail avant de profiter d’un week-end seul. Le choix d’une véritable solitude me manque.
‘Oh, you do not truly hate yourself— they utter,
It will be okay— they hammer,
But as I stumble and stammer on hateful proses,
I found it hard to meet my mirror’s reflections,
And I decided to break it—No more shall it mimic my complexion.’
À l’époque, nous avions le choix d’être seul. Mais confiné presque sept jours sur sept, et en période d’ébranlement sur tous les flancs, ça creuse une sorte no man’s land mentale. Combien de fois ais-je eu envie de partir afin d’aller m’immoler dans de lointaines contrées, mais en même temps d’enlacer jusqu’à l’asphyxie ceux que j’aime. Autant de sentiments conflictuels en étant face à soi-même, pendant une période qui paraissait irréelle. Mille fois ais-je eu envie de briser les miroirs de ma chambre étudiante. Mille fois ais-je eu envie de me briser, d’en finir avec ces conflits. Mais, je ne crois pas en avoir encore fini, même aujourd’hui.
En rendant ces sentiments enfouis publique, loin de moi est l’idée de me lamenter, de trouver des excuses ou de justifier l’évitable et le soignable. Mais plutôt de réaliser un autre acte de catharsis, cette fois-ci, à travers l’écriture. Tout comme cette pénombre en allant au travail, tout comme cette sueur existentielle, ce n’est pas de s’avouer vaincu de dire que l’on a été faible, triste ou anxieux, mais plutôt enfin admettre que ça va mieux. Ou que tout du moins, que nous sommes prêts à aller mieux.
En cet anniversaire de confinement, certes, un peu glauque, je vous souhaite d’aller bien ou d’aller mieux. Le monde est dans un état inhabituel, mais il faut prendre soin de soi-même. S’alimenter correctement, lire abondamment, s’aimer et se pardonner. Quant à moi, il serait temps que je suive ces conseils. Je commence à en avoir marre de marcher sur du verre brisé.
THE DAY I WISHED THE WORLD AWAY
After a dull, dark, and dreary year I had found myself escaping my problems by running away to London. I remember long walks on the wet cobblestone, indulging myself with tea and scones and crumpets and all kinds of British delicacies. At the time, Coronavirus had only started extending its evil tentacular grasp on the world. Everything seemed so distant, and as I spent my days in Saint James’ Park I felt safe. There was no way it would find me, London, or the rest of Europe, and if it did, we would surely vanquish it. As the number of cases started to rise, I still felt calm and oblivious to the bumbling chaos that was slowly invading our world. Even cracking a few jokes that were barely hiding my true feelings, saying to anyone who would listen that I wouldn’t mind a lockdown because I needed to sleep. A few days before the first French lockdown was announced, I received a text from my mother, urging me to come home.
« Something bad is going to happen, we need you here, we need you safe ».
I booked a return flight, convinced that I would go back for only a few days, I would go back home to reassure her, and then I’d run away again.
My last days in London are still crystal clear in my mind and I find myself replaying them all the time. An old movie to which I already know the ending but that still surprises and comforts me. I was in Saint James’ Park, as usual, reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. A retelling of Austen’s classic but in which a zombie epidemic has taken over the world and forced people into lockdowns, prisoners of their estates and powerless against this evil disease. Looking back, I realize that sometimes the universe has a dry sense of humor. I had found this book in a second-hand store that morning, and maybe I was simply blind to the signs but I wonder how I could ignore such a blatant foretelling of what was to come.
That day, the most curious things happened to me. First of all, I found a £20 note on the ground (and I was never the kind of person lucky enough to find money), I also found a brand new fag packet, and then while I was reading against a tree, a homeless man decided to play matchmaker by introducing me to a young artist who was drawing a few meters away. Some would call it serendipity but I’m sure it was only a way for the universe to apologize in advance for what would come. The same way sentenced-to-death prisoners were offered the best meal of their lives before being executed.
The artist and I hit it off right away. He was my sunniest day in a long succession of dark and dull and cold weeks. We spent hours together huddled on a bench, talking about everything and anything. We decided to say our goodbyes around 10 pm when the cold was becoming too much to handle. I saw him the next day, my penultimate day. We danced under a lamppost, he doodled on my arms, he met my friends, I met his, and he kissed me. These hours together felt as if time stood still, hours felt like years, and I promised him I’d be back in a week. He tried to catch me at the airport but in a bad romantic comedy fashion, he went searching for me in the wrong place, he stood alone with his bouquet of sunflowers at Gatwick airport, as I was boarding kilometers away in Luton airport.
Two days later I was standing in front of the television when a national lockdown was announced. I tried to book a flight back to him, and London, but the prices had already gone way too high for me. All I had to do was embrace the lockdown, and to be honest a part of me had been wishing for it. I remember texting my friends, saying that in the end, it wasn’t a bad thing, I needed the rest and I needed to exist without having to answer to any social norm. While realizing the implications of a national lockdown, it was clear to me that it was all my fault. I had wished the world away. The government announcements were like bricks that slowly built me a metaphorical house, and a gate, locked for what seemed would be forever. These announcements allowed me to become a character trapped in a gothic novel. An unknown dangerous illness wracking havoc on the world, a secluded house in the countryside, a lot of unsaid thoughts and negative feelings, a house haunted by my nightmares and memories. All the elements were there.
I tried to be optimistic while tending to my garden (which I hadn’t done in years), while learning how to paint, embroider and sew. I finally had the time to learn what I wanted and do as I pleased; even if it meant turning into what was a twisted version of one of Austen’s heroines, I was happy reading and practicing all these new activities. I became a ghost of myself, standing still, unbeknownst to the passing of time, paler than I had ever been; silently hurling my angst into the dark of moonless nights. Not that I was unhappy, but my best days were the days I would receive love notes directly from Ireland where my artist was actually from.
My experience of the lockdown might sound tone-deaf to some. In no part, do I mean to diminish the horror and the dread that coronavirus has brought upon our society. But to me, it was simply what I needed. The lockdown offered me time to heal and to exist for the sake of existing.
On her death bed, my grandmother wrote me a letter that read:
« You were born amidst one of the worst storms I ever lived through. I believe you’ll withhold the chaos of that day forever deep inside, celebrate it, find the peace in the chaos and you’ll walk through the storms of life untouched. »
This year has been Chaos at his paroxysm, and strangely granny was right, it was a year of peace for me.
The first lockdown was honestly the toughest time I had ever experienced in my life. In a moment when you have so much hope and projects, having your expectations crushed and feeling powerless in front of a situation that you cannot control is not so easy. Feeling imprisoned is already a hassle but witnessing your relationship with your lover be put at stake is even harder. An individual is not conditioned to constantly mix with other human beings, and the easiest way to cope with your anger and sadness is to blame the person next to you.
I genuinely believe anxiety contributed to my addiction to cigarettes. Somehow, as depicted in some theatrical plays, addiction feels like an escape from a financial and emotional stability that is falling apart. Being locked down with myself for a long time lead me to engage into a thorough introspection. But thinking excessively never did me well: I tend to get overtaken by my own illusions, then by my own awareness, and finally interrogate the essence of my vision of the world and my self-esteem. At some point, I had no certainty that I would someday succeed and thrive. Being satisfied with myself, my studies, my job and my social life started to become difficult.
As an Asian person during this specific pandemic, one of the issues I also had to face was racism. I am not stating that racism was less prominent in the past, what I am saying is the pandemic became a good reason enough for people to normalize the stigmatization and violence against the Asian community.
Nevertheless, beside the numerous struggles that not only did I, but probably many other people went through, stepping out of this lockdown in the end made me realize that I could overcome any situation. Though I must admit that I do have some mental breakdowns from time to time, in a broader way, I feel now much more confident and way stronger psychologically speaking.
365 DAYS LATER
Rereading David Mamet’s take on the creative process; he compares it to carving wood in an interview with Matthew Roudané: “You start to carve wood and very quickly the thing takes on a life of its own. Part of the wisdom of wood carving is to realize when the wood is telling you where it wants to go” (Studies in American Drama, 1945-present, p. 80).
Since March 17, 2020, life has felt like carving wood. Requiring wisdom and resilience, fortitude and hope. Imagining designs, tools and carving methods anew.
A year that has felt like an eternity… Skill gaps, aporias, reinventions. Renunciations and surrenders. Yet, ideas have come; projects have seen the light; books have been delivered. One rooted in autobiography with a parabolic bent: how to navigate agency under extreme constraints. Another one rooted in fiction. Revisiting both today, a year after the world declared its independence from our complacency and control—to be re-born and delivered. Retracing the paths of their respective genesis, their expenditure of time and energy, their goal and intention. My twin female characters ushering me into existence again—along with Dorothy Day whose life and action I presented in an article published as part of a celebration for International Women’s Day. The enjoyment of bringing order to chaos. Whipping some life energy into a narrative, a story, a personal myth—and at times, into wonder. The wonder of considering 365 days from the vantage point of a peculiar anniversary which is also a planetary birthday—the uncanny candles of resilient gestures on top of the cake of unexpected achievements and journeys. Gazing at the flickering flame and rejoicing in its warmth before blowing it. Mind planning for next year’s anniversary as I happen to read a French translation of the following words by Italian writer Anita Pittoni in her Diary 1944-1945: “Une immense pelote de fil très resistant s’était formée en moi”. And she adds further: “Le jour viendra où nous serons faits de ciel, dans le ciel”.
Marie LIENARD- YETERIAN