The universe, an enigmatic expanse of cosmic wonders, has captivated human curiosity for centuries. As we gaze into the night sky, we are confronted with a tapestry of stars, galaxies, and celestial phenomena that defy comprehension. Among these cosmic wonders, black holes stand out as some of the most intriguing and mysterious entities in the cosmos. In this exploration, we embark on a journey through the vastness of the universe, delving into the mysteries of black holes and their profound impact on our understanding of space, time, and the nature of reality. The Cosmic Canvas: Universe's Splendid Tapestry The Celestial Ballet of Stars The universe, with its grandeur and complexity, is a canvas painted with the celestial ballet of stars. Billions of galaxies, each composed of billions of stars, adorn the cosmic tapestry. Their brilliance illuminates the cosmic darkness, creating a spectacle that has inspired poets, philosophers, and scientists throughout the ages. The dynamics of these galaxies, governed by the fundamental forces of the cosmos, orchestrate the symphony of the universe. Nebulae: Cosmic Nurseries In the vastness of space, nebulae emerge as cosmic nurseries where stars are born. These colossal clouds of gas and dust serve as the incubators of stellar life, where gravitational forces sculpt and mold the raw materials into luminous spheres that will burn for millions or even billions of years. Nebulae showcase the cosmic creativity at play, shaping the evolution of galaxies and influencing the destiny of the universe itself. Cosmic Expansion: The Unfolding Drama The universe is not static; it is a dynamic entity in a perpetual state of expansion. The concept of cosmic expansion, initially proposed by Edwin Hubble, revolutionized our understanding of the universe's evolution. As galaxies drift apart, the fabric of space-time stretches, revealing a narrative of cosmic proportions. This expansion is not only a testament to the universe's past but also a harbinger of its future, raising questions about the ultimate fate of our cosmic home. Black Holes: The Cosmic Enigmas The Gravitational Abyss Amidst the celestial splendors, black holes lurk as cosmic enigmas, challenging our fundamental understanding of space and time. These gravitational behemoths, born from the cataclysmic deaths of massive stars, possess an irresistible force that defies escape—the event horizon. Once an object crosses this boundary, it succumbs to the relentless pull of gravity, disappearing into the cosmic abyss. Singularity: The Heart of Darkness At the core of a black hole lies the singularity—a point of infinite density where the laws of physics break down. The singularity is shrouded in mystery, representing a realm where our current understanding of the universe reaches its limits. Concepts such as space and time lose their conventional meaning, giving rise to a cosmic conundrum that beckons scientists to unravel the secrets hidden within. Hawking Radiation: Quantum Whispers Stephen Hawking's groundbreaking work introduced the concept of Hawking radiation, challenging the traditional idea that black holes are insatiable devourers of matter and energy. This quantum phenomenon suggests that, contrary to their ominous reputation, black holes can emit radiation and gradually lose mass over time. Hawking radiation adds a layer of complexity to the black hole narrative, blending the classical and quantum realms in a cosmic dance of paradoxes. Bridging the Cosmic Scales Relativity: Einstein's Cosmic Symphony Albert Einstein's theory of relativity laid the foundation for our modern understanding of gravity and space-time. General relativity, in particular, provides a framework to comprehend the gravitational forces shaping the universe. The interplay between matter and space-time curvature elucidates the cosmic choreography, allowing us to decipher the intricate movements of celestial bodies and the subtle bending of light as it traverses the cosmic expanse. In our cosmic odyssey through the universe and the profound mysteries of black holes, we find ourselves at the crossroads of awe and understanding. The celestial tapestry, woven with the brilliance of stars, the grandeur of galaxies, and the enigma of black holes, beckons us to contemplate the intricate dance of cosmic forces that shape the cosmos.
The woods call me to wander, explore, and get lost in the depths of its bulky terrains. The turquoise seas, the lively evergreen marshes, and even the cold and snobby waterfalls greet me every time I take a step back from the world to fully see its wonders. The mountain cave's crooked teeth never fails to beam a smile and wave at me every time I take a hike up its bushy yet slippery slopes. All nature's elements are a friend of mine-- an indifferent friend that never talks but whose humble demeanor always lingers at the background of your head. But the woods approach me differently. They're eclectic. Not only do they call me; They invite me as well to abandon civilization and go back to the primitive ways of getting lost within its blistering barks and finding my way back home. I sat at the back of our little red car with my sisters. I leaned against the stained window. That was 7 years ago, I was 10 and afraid to leave chip crumbs on the car's upholstery as a clean freak. With that, we also had to tidy up soon as we near our destination. We were on our way to Pangasinan-- the home to the prolific "Hundred Islands" found crowding a single region among the festive 82 provinces of the Philippines. We were on a family road trip to a peachy remote area where a beach villa stood. It was our summer tradition to stay at that villa every March or April and catch up with my mom's close friend who owned that land. It's been 7 years since we last visited. I've got faint but great memories buried in that undisturbed beachfront property. On our dreadful 4-hour drive, we finally arrived to a familiar road that was enveloped with thin oak trees on both sides of the road. It was a panoramic view of what was once a small forest, now vacated for a farm ranch. I don't know what was going on with my mind then, but I still remember today how I was suddenly overcome with this desire to get lost in the woods. I wasn't trying to find ways to escape nor did I want to play pretend as a melodramatic explorer. I was driven by the simple fact that I wanted to wander off. Humans are designed as voyagers. We are adventurers of life. What had me stoked though was finding out my motive behind this impulsive and intrusive thought. I wasn't doing it to be some kind of scientist out and about to discover the world's rarest of the rare or the bizarro of the bizarre; Nor did I want to be an expeditioner that navigated the world's hardiest grounds. I was simply a kid with no thought but a fantasy to be alone and find comfort in nature. I was acting instinctually for no rhyme or reason than just to seek for Earth's unbothered beauty. For all I know, I might be Forrest Gump or an Earth Faerie in my last life. Fortunately, young me had common sense and never acted upon these fantasies. My family and I went on to travel a bunch abroad and locally after that. Things have changed. My desire to travel and consequently find myself lost have evolved into powering my passion to wanting to build beach resorts so that fellow wanderers like me still have a place to stay. After all that, I could never write a novel without an adventure or a cultural sequence to tell my readers. I tell a lot of stories, but this was the defining moment that reminded me that we are all capable to detach from modern society and come back to lay down on Earth. The woods call us. Its critters scream at us. They beg us to search for souls in its rooting terrains, only then to be trapped in nature's force that tells us that we cannot stray away from our roots.
Children are the most affected by war. In a war-torn zone, the trauma children undergo will live with them until the day they die. The trauma induced is deep-rooted and healing from the effects of war is never easy or most often than not, out of the question. Ultimately, the consequences of war related trauma will require precautionary measures as cure is never attainable. Children who has survived the worst of wars will need special attention and aid. Imagine hearing the bomb sirens or gunshots or worse, watch a building crumble right before your eyes. Imagine watching people killed or dying, or writhing in pain from wounds. The pain of the whole situation will numb a young mind to silence. I don't think these children will ever be able to interact amicably with another human after witnessing the horrors of war. How do we treat children who has seen the worst of wars and suffered as a consequence? First, we must accept that children of war are mentally affected by the situation they are thrust into. The psychological effects are massive and often these children withdraw into their own shell due to the frightening situation. Their need to explain even to themselves the results of war can have dire consequences in their actions towards those they love. They become hateful and distrusting of the world around them. In order to help them overcome the difficult transition to lead a normal life as best as they can, the caregivers must be patient with their behavioral patterns. A psychiatrist treating the child will tell you how difficult it is to get them to speak about their trauma. Instead of coming out with their fears, they often hide their feelings of insecurities and fright and try to avoid human connection. They will find it hard to interact with outsiders with the exception of their family members. Often, in the long run, the children blame their elders and family members for the trauma of war they face. They will want someone to blame themselves. Why the war? Effective treatments like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapies and narrative exposure therapy are available, however, family support will ultimately play a crucial role in helping children recover fully or to the extent that they can forget for a while. Children need love and a good environment to nurture their growth and look forward to a full life. It is an abhorrence to have them experience war and live to regret the chances they have missed to grow out their childhood and to understand the horrific way their lives have unfolded. At least for the love of a child, wars should end and peaceful negotiations given preference. No matter what it takes, choose peace against war. We wouldn't want to partake in ruining the lives of our children to gloat over the power of being victorious, now do we? Wars won are never a victory at the expense of even one child. The End. (This essay was first accepted for publication in the December'23 online issue by Welter@University of Baltimore. https://blogs.ubalt.edu/welter/digital-lit-current-issue)
My interest in literature was not born when I saw the light for the first time or when I started writing. Literature was born when I learned that a simple action can limit your dreams and the emergence of your being. When I was a child I became ill with something that at first seemed to be nothing bad, but eventually pushed me to the limit of my hopes. I didn't know what I had and neither did my parents. That yellow tone in my skin distinguished me from the healthy ones. The illness was momentary, but at the same time hard. I began my rest by stopping going to school, abandoning my classroom and my siblings and parents with it. My illness prevented me from taking care of the children and my sister's childhood. I settled in a room with four walls where darkness and solitude were my best allies. My mother and father never left me alone, every breakfast, lunch and dinner I would lovingly observe each one's face, I could not eat with them but I could contemplate their existence. - This would not last long. My mother told me My believing self resurfaced with those words, hope returned from where it left off and the possibilities of moving forward arose as never before. But boredom took hold of me, I didn't know what to do other than sleep and play. Although I was very critical from a very young age, I attributed it to the debates that went on in my family and not to books, because I read them for school. As my greatest hobby was pottery, which I could no longer touch or look at. One of those cold and boring days. My older sister came with many books. She watched me and did not hesitate to mention that each book contained a world inside. I didn't save the best reaction because I always considered books as tools for school and not for a being who was locked up. As time went by my being sought the need for distraction but not with books. - Not with that. I mentioned madly Every moment was torture, until my curious instinct awakened the intention to see only the cover of the books and if there was the need to read, it would be the books with pictures. I started with the book "El chibolo Pilas", interesting, but very fast to read, that work, kept everything that its title says, a boy who was looking for happiness, but was misunderstood in the world. Then, I was interested in reading a story titled "The Dolphin", those pages full of letters and images awakened my desire to read even more, I understood how the human being seeks the meaning of life, the importance of perseverance and faith, that faith that I lacked and had to develop. Allowing me to know new worlds from my room was the beginning of the being I am now. Books introduced me to literature and the power to imagine a comfortable environment for myself. When I was able to heal and return to my reality again, I began to read not out of necessity, but out of interest for my personal growth. Books were not a problem, but a solution. Perhaps if I had not become ill, it would have taken me a long time to recognize the greatness of letters and images.
The Sick Child has very defined brush strokes, and this is something that stays prevalent throughout all of the times he redid it. There is a lot of green and yellow, which represent sickness and dying (Heer), throughout the painting, but we see some strokes of red and orange around the painting as well. These represent hemoptysis, the blood coming from the child's lungs, which is typical in late-stage tuberculosis (Heer). Instead of having obvious splatters of blood, Munch just has small lines of red here and there more subtly, showing that consumption kills you quietly and lingers in the air after it's done. Munch described this painting as a “breakthrough” in his art (Vermeer). Even though it was not well received by critics, it helped him decide to lean more towards expressionism than impressionism in his art for the rest of his career (Vermeer). This was beneficial to him, as the technique helped him to later make his most famous painting, The Scream. Munch ended up redoing this work several times throughout the course of his life as an artist. He said, “I reworked the picture countless times in the course of a year—scratched it out—allowed it to infuse the paint medium—struggling again and again to recapture the first impression—its translucency—the pale skin towards the canvas, the trembling lips, the trembling hands” (Heer). He wanted to get the feeling and image of his sister dying just right, showing his and his aunt Karen's emotions as perfectly as possible, even in the first few years. He painted it for the first time in 1886, nine years after the event happened. He made a lithograph of it in 1894, and redid it in paint in 1896, twice in 1907, in 1925, and in 1927. He was obsessed with getting this work just right, saying, “I am convinced that there is hardly a painter among them who drained his subject to the very last bitter drop as I did in The Sick Child. It was not only I myself sitting there – it was all my loved ones” (Heer). He felt as though as long as he was reworking the painting, his loved ones who had died, including his mother, sister, and aunt, were still with him. Redoing this painting over and over helped him to heal emotionally from the trauma of his sister's death. Overall, The Sick Child is an amazing piece, showcasing exactly how the artist felt at the time, and how a lot of families and relatives of ill people felt throughout the tuberculosis epidemic. Munch felt that there was no hope left in the world after his sister died except through art, specifically this piece, so he redid it over and over again, ending up with more than six finished oil paintings (“The Sick Child, 1885 by Edvard Munch”). It helped him to heal and also to figure out what he really wanted his paintings to be like, what techniques and styles to use in his future pieces. He redid this painting a lot over 40 years, and was able to really make it convey exactly what he wanted it to. This piece goes to show that even when tragedy strikes, you can use it to make something of yourself, and if you happen to be an artist, you can make truly heart-wrenching art from it. Works Cited “Edvard Munch | The Sick Child.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/669368. Accessed 30 March 2023. Heer, Sati. “The Sick Child: Edvard, empathy and expertise.” UNEXAMINED MEDICINE, 17 April 2021, https://unexaminedmedicine.org/2021/04/17/the-sick-child-edvard-empathy-and-expertise/. Accessed 30 March 2023. Paulson, Noelle. “Munch, The Scream (article).” Khan Academy, https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/later-europe-and-americas/modernity-ap/a/munch-the-scream. Accessed 7 April 2023. “The Sick Child.” Munchmuseet, https://www.munchmuseet.no/en/our-collection/the-sick-child/. Accessed 6 April 2023. “The Sick Child, 1885 by Edvard Munch.” Edvard Munch, https://www.edvardmunch.org/the-sick-child.jsp. Accessed 28 March 2023. Vermeer, Johannes. “The Sick Child (Det Syke Barn): Munch's Most Important Painting.” Artsapien, 1 May 2021, https://artsapien.com/2021/05/the-sick-child/. Accessed 7 April 2023.
A child, 14, sits in his room. Quarantine has taken a toll, stealing away the ability to socialize with friends and the opportunity to learn at in-person schools. Life has begun to become boring, mundane, borderline useless. Being so young when COVID hits is a challenge. What are you meant to do? There wasn't much freedom to speak of before, and now it's all gone. One of the only things you can do at the moment, such an isolated time, is go online. He makes many online friends during quarantine that help sustain his wellbeing. Posting drawings on social media to show friends and mutuals replaces socializing in real life. The thing that's most different is that now, our hero enjoys learning. Research on Google becomes an outlet for him. He discovers a love for history this way, looking up facts about cowboys and about Victorian princes. He learns many interesting things and, in researching the late 1700s, discovers his new favorite thing; something that nobody in their right mind would enjoy. Tuberculosis. Everything about the pulmonary disease is extremely interesting to him. It begins with a fascination in hemoptysis, coughing up blood, then snowballs. Watching documentaries, reading informational books online, discovering more and more articles on the subject, the ancient disease becomes his lifeblood. He no longer feels so bored with life. He discovers that several fictional books about Tuberculosis exist, both contemporary and vintage, ones which tell stories about interesting characters in and out of sanatoriums. It inspires him to read again for the first time in three years. He has again found something worth spending time on. Learning about Tuberculosis becomes an unlikely source of happiness, one that will last for years to come. He finds a lot of enjoyment in researching the infectious disease, talking about it, watching videos that mention it. He has finally begun to discover himself.
“Di papa w!” my mother yelled dismissively at me in Haitian Creole, “Tell your father!” “Leave me alone!” I yelled. I ran into my room, slamming the door with such force that it made the room quiver. I stomped around until I finally collapsed into bed. I cried. I cried so much that I would cry myself to sleep. I was always aware of what was happening around me. I had to be; it wasn't obvious growing up that my parents didn't love each other. Although they never got into verbal arguments, the animosity was there. When they communicated, which was rare, it would be brief and followed by a petty comment behind the other's back. One of the things that would cause tension was transportation. I was always unsure who would bring me to and from school—would it be my mom, siblings, cousin, or a family friend? I never thought that it'd be my dad, as Mom made it clear that he “was busy playing dominoes with his friends” and that she would never ask him to pick me up. It was something I'd always have to do alone: be the messenger between two warring sides and I would grow up to mimic their behavior. Some of the ways they dealt with their issues with each other rubbed off on me, as I would often avoid conflict, ignoring the feelings building up within me until I would finally implode in a fit of rage and tears I couldn't explain. At school, this manifested in intense anxiety and reclusiveness, as I kept to myself and didn't share any parts of my home life with anyone. I can now say that I was heartbroken over the fact that my parents weren't getting along. I was confused as to why my parents, who were unmarried and clearly not in love, were still living together. I'd think to myself “What's keeping them here together?” and my subconscious answered back, “Me.” I began to blame myself for their hostility towards each other. I came to realize that I needed stability and affection, but I knew at that moment I wouldn't get those from my parents, so I looked towards a hobby that would help. Quilting became a way to create something meaningful and practical. This expensive hobby was made possible by a $500 grant that I earned and the rewards are invaluable. Quilting taught me how to adapt. For example, I used an old bed sheet to create the backing for my quilt, in doing so I also lessened the mental clutter I was struggling with. With every thread that connected and endured, it became something deeper than just sewing. As I would work on quilts, all of the emotions I felt overwhelmed by could be stitched into art I controlled. Quilting also became a medium to express my Haitian roots as well as be able to provide a little warmth to someone in need. As I made more quilts, my confidence began to build. At school, I no longer felt like a recluse who would walk around, hanging her head in despair. I would now hold my head up high with pride. At home, it has brought me closer to my mother, who's offered to help me sew. Now I hear “Moutre papa w” when I complete a quilt, and the tension in my home is eased knowing that she's saying “Show your father.”
COVID was, let's face it, a pretty horrific time. It still is - the flaws of society that period brought out, never really slid back under the surface. But, and I assure you this is true, good things did manage to happen. My feel good story of the day is this: How I Found Myself Again Through Wild Swimming. Let's set the scene - It's 2021, I am horrifically burnt out from overworking myself with every project imaginable, and my mental health is holding on by a thread. In summary, ain't doing too great. And then, a good friend of mine and my mothers invited us swimming (this was before it was banned). I took swimming lessons as a child but there is a pretty big difference between a nice heated pool with little risk of drowning and, I don't know, the ocean! It was terrifying and I learnt quickly that I am not a great swimmer. But we were a year into a global pandemic, I was loosing my mind and I thought 'screw it, if I drown, I drown.' Always look on the bright side of life kind of stuff. Good news is, I didn't drown - barely even sunk! I tired myself out pretty quick and did a terrible little doggy paddle back to shore and then watched the other swimmers going about their mornings. It was wonderful, quite frankly. Wonderful enough to bring me back the next day. And then we kept on going. I bought myself a tow float and started swimming with it (scratch that, started clinging on to it for dear life and paddling myself a long with my legs.) My mother bought us each a dry robe for Solstice to help with warming ourselves up after the swim - I got her an amazing recycle swim bag as she would always come with an overflowing bag that would get drenched. As the months went on, I started to feel human again. "It's like I can feel the edges of my body," is how I described it to my Mother. I no longer felt like I was floating through life or so heavy I'd sink through the floor. It was as if the winter water, around 5°C for a good few swims, froze my body back into being. It was glorious. I found it easier to go on walks again, easier to notice when I was hungry, pick up on my emotions, tell when I had worked too much. I'm not a fan of functioning labels but I was finally functioning again! And yes, I got chilblains and my hands froze up so much that I couldn't get myself dressed. And of course, I still had bad days, weeks and months. And yes, when swimming was banned, I did lose myself again. But finding myself that time made it so much easier to find myself every time since. It's been almost 2 years now since I felt truly low and I like to think it was all because of that first swim. Of course, the development of fibromyalgia has almost totally wiped out the possibility of wild swimming and going on nice walks, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have done this during COVID. In a time where everything was so chaotic and scary, I managed to find some semblance of peace.
I was thinking the other day about how long it took me to be bold enough to showcase my writing to the literary world. I had always kept it private, not wanting anyone to know that I had this knack for writing down my thoughts or delving into the deepest part of my soul to express a poetic semblance, thus creating pictures through words. The picture that I conjure in my mind is always one of perfection. I suppose it is because life is so imperfect that you want to run away from reality. I had this voluminous amount of inspiration that arose from things around me. I imagined much of what I wrote in ways quite unimaginable. Words would spill from the depth of my soul, and therein I find peace, laughter, magic, and love. Writing takes me to another level. It creates the perfect balance between realism and invention. Creation is the aftermath. It takes a great deal of courage to be able to write for all the world to read. Behind the façade of the writer is a tumultuous mind, vulnerable to criticism or applause. Would you be courageous enough to withstand the pressures either way? There are so many reasons that awaken one to the beauty of writing. In some cases, it is of paramount importance to be able to relay one's feelings and thoughts on paper as it can be as healing as an anti-depressant, you find your happy place to thrive and grow and even learn. You unveil the person you are beneath it all. One has to be motivated to write. Interest has to form about a subject matter which will create an impression in your mind, thus facilitating an expression of words in writing. Focus is the key point here. When ideas surmount, it is like a storm waiting to be unleashed. Just like when your cup runneth over. Your cup runneth over like manna, Where wisdom is found, Treasures of knowledge abound, Where a longing for appeasement liberates a tired mind. Writing liberates the mind. This brings to mind a neighbor who used to come over to our house nearly every day to borrow a cup of sugar or salt. I don't know what it was that made her borrow these essentials all the time. She would bring her cup, and mom would fill it up, never once complaining, though we sometimes laughed at her antics. I suppose it made her day to be able to come over to our place and have a tete-a-tete. After a while, it became routine. We expected her to appear at our doorstep at the same time every other day. Each time she came, she said that she was lazy to go to the shops to get her groceries and that she would do her shopping another day. I guess it was her way of wanting some attention. Writing is a compulsive disorder, I think. Especially, if you get deeply immersed in it. There is no room for laziness if you want to succeed. I don't know if laziness is the right word but being laid back and neglecting its relevance in your life doesn't help in turning passion into dreams. Everyone has a passion. Writers make dreams come true out of their passion and inspire a hungry world to knowledge and understanding. After a while, the expressive element to get your words across will become an essential part of your life. Now, I am glad that I dared all those years ago. Writing has liberated me of nearly all the trappings of my life. The End.
Dear Me, circa 2020. Hi there, old friend. It's been two years since the world as you knew it ended. I know we had hopes that things would settle back into some semblance of normalcy, but alas, I am obligated to inform you that the ghost of all that once was will continue to haunt you. Lockdown has effectively ended but we are still required to wear masks, maintain six feet of isolation (the depth of a grave, mind you), and use sanitizer until our once-soft hands have begun to resemble chicken feet. Pro tip: stock up on moisturizer. Life gets . . . more interesting over the course of the next two years. For the sake of brevity, I will not go into detail of the general state of the world, as that will only serve to depress you (and as you will soon discover upon further perusal of this letter, you don't need the extra help). This will be a letter of selfishness, a reflection if you will, on how you personally experience these next two years. This is a letter for internal consumption. For too long, you refused to self-examine and self-report. But that's why I've taken it upon myself to start this correspondence, so we don't make the same mistakes again. So hopefully, we can learn. This is what follows in the next two years. You never learn how to play guitar, like you promised yourself. You don't get to parade around a body that boasts two years of consistent working out and clean eating (although, thankfully, the only weight you gain is emotional baggage so that's good). You burn out trying to learn French. Almost flunk out of your Honours programme. Your labyrinthitis comes back and you end up losing your job due to your relapsed symptoms, stress and insomnia . . . yes, it sucks and you hate yourself for months (you need to work on both your discipline and tendency to self-flagellate by the way, it's an incredibly unhealthy cycle for you). You compare yourself to your old classmates, you feel left behind. You lose contact with a high school friend and it cuts pretty deep. Your mother has a health scare that sends you reeling. You lose direction and feel unanchored; you drift, you seethe, you ache. You experiment with alcohol, develop a slight dependency on gin to numb the sting of the dragging weeks. You struggle. You feel more alone than you ever have in your entire life. This sounds awful, I can imagine you would like to remain in the naivety of early 2020 because despite the world burning, you thought things would get better and they don't for a long time. But then they do. These two years will feel like you are in the eye of a hurricane, sheltered in stasis amidst the maelstrom. You'll feel like you wasted time, you will long for memories of when you were active and living and hungry. But standing on the other side, I'll tell you one thing -you learn. You learn to trust yourself to pick up the pieces after losing the plot. You learn to stop focusing on missed opportunities and propel yourself into forging new ones. You learn to appreciate your loved ones more, to check in with friends and maintain those bonds. You learn to make time for things you love. You write again. Fall in love with music again. Some childlike wonder returns to you at the end of that dark tunnel. You begin to regain the foolish courage of youth and stretch your hand out to touch the light pouring through. There is light and it's beautiful. Time is a funny thing. It doesn't feel like two years since I last saw you. I'm two years older and yet I feel as though I've aged decades. What is to come will feel like both too much and nothing at all but don't be afraid. I learn from you. Time, as all things worth preserving, is fleeting. You'll be eager to make sure you don't miss out on even the once-mundane aspects of living the life of a young adult now that you're in the throes of a pandemic and even simple things are no longer mundane. But you have to learn to be patient with yourself. It is not your job to have your entire life planned perfectly, calibrated to a timeline that I can attest will throw you for a loop time and time again. Our job, you and I, is to take what we learn along the way and put it to good use. The important thing is to place our value on the quality of our experiences, find joy in the day-to-day. That's one thing a pandemic will teach you. I take your ambition and hopes with me into the years to come. I have a good feeling about where we are now, where you will be soon. We get better. See you on the other side. Love, Me, circa 2022 P.S. I'm serious about that moisturizer.
When I was little, I spent a lot of time on my mommy's lap. Listening, laughing, loving. For me, her lap was the safest place in the world, not to mention the most comfortable. I used to look up and admire the diamond pendant that hung from her neck. I always thought it was the most precious thing she owned, although she told me I was more precious but I don't think I ever quite believed her. One day, she turned me to face her and said that she would be sending me on a treasure hunt. No, this one didn't involve sweets or chocolate covered eggs, which greatly disappointed me. I watched her reach behind her head and unclasp the shiny chain. I was bewildered. Never before, not for as long as I had been a permanent resident of her lap, had I ever seen her take her pendant off. She looked down at my bewildered expression and laughed. Taking the diamond in her hand she held onto both sides and twisted. Just when I thought the sky was falling and it was officially the end of the world as we knew it, the diamond capsule opened revealing a heart. The heart was little and shiny. It looked like something I could easily loose and so I kept my hands on my lap and stared. The heart was somewhat incomplete. Well, there were pieces missing and a few chips on the edges but it was still, in so many ways, whole. I looked at my mom's face to see her smiling down at her hands and telling me that there, clutch between her fingers, laid her whole heart. At this point I wondered if I had somehow positioned myself incorrectly on her lap and I was somehow cutting off the circulation to her head because obviously mom wasn't feeling too good. There was no way her whole heart was that small. I mean with the amount of love she said she had for me, that couldn't possibly hold it all. Just before I reached over to feel her forehead she told me that it took her her whole life to find all the pieces and that still today, she was looking. She said that the most part of her heart, was me. By this point I was very confused. Then she tipped it over letting the small heart fall into her palm, leaving it's diamond case. Then she lifted the chain with the now empty diamond case and reached forward to clasp it around my neck. Still holding the little heart in her hand, she looked down at it and told me about the grand treasure hunt that would be the rest of my life. She said that I should go into the world not looking for but always ready to see and receive the love and beauty that awaits me everywhere I go. She told me to always try seeing the little hearts in everyone and remembering how much love they have the potential to hold. She said that sometimes they may be chipped like hers and missing a few pieces but they remain whole and will hopefully never break. Only later did I learn that my heart would also obtain a few chips and holes but like mommy promised, it never broke and it came with great healing and lessons. She said that I'll find most of my heart in myself and the rest from everything around me. She said that maybe one day I'll have my own children that will take up most of it. She said to protect it, like a diamond case and to give as much of the love that it holds away. She said that she promises that although it's small and fragile and may get lost or misplaced, that it will never 1. cease to be mine 2. run out of love to give and 3. run out of space for more. So, with the diamond pendant, that I promised to protect with my life, I would find the rest of the pieces of my heart and hold them in the diamond case close to my chest. I knew I had already found the first pieces from mommy's love and with that alone, I had an endless supply to share.
My first reaction to the pandemic on March 12, 2020--after securing toilet paper and hand sanitizer--was to help my family and the nonprofits I was working with weather the storm. “It's only for two weeks,” everyone said. “It's going to be so much longer than that,” I said. “And, the effects will last for years.” Turns out, the pandemic itself was going to last for years. By nature, I'm a planner. I like to have a strategy. Even if crazy things happen, if you have a plan, you can pivot. The early days of the pandemic drove me to my computer. I made lists. I'm a big list-maker. I already had a solid plan in place for the nonprofits before the pandemic hit, so I wasn't worried about that. If they stayed the course and remained proactive, they would be fine. Becoming reactive would have been a disaster. At home, my parents had recently moved in with me after selling their house. They have never been worriers or list makers or planners. While my kitchen pantry upstairs was prepped with at least two weeks of food that we could survive on, theirs was bare. Up until COVID-19, my prepping was in anticipation of a blizzard or power outage, not a global pandemic. Did my parents have canned goods? No. They picked up fast food or did take out every day for nearly every meal. Did they have a supply of toilet paper and paper towels? No. Were they worried? No. I was. At my computer, I had lists of what we needed to do to get ahead of this crisis. I had never pre-ordered and picked up groceries before but in our new contactless world, it was heaven-sent. Of course, I went right to Amazon to order masks, gloves, disinfectant, and later, when I became really COVID-savvy, a digital, no contact thermometer and a pulse oximeter. And then, the world froze. No one was going in to work anymore. The stores were empty and the shelves were bare. I no longer had to think of excuses to get out of my over-committed weekends. Suddenly, there were no plans. I had everything I needed. My lovable dog, Toby, was by my side every day. I saw my masked niece and family in socially distanced gatherings from ten feet away in driveways and on decks. My friends and I Zoomed. My neighbors group texted and did porch drop-offs of freshly baked bread and goodies. I signed up for online yoga, painting classes, interesting virtual tours of fascinating places in the world, read books, cleaned my house, and watched YouTube videos on how to cut my own hair, which was not my best idea. I used to cherish days when I didn't have to drive to work, saving me sometimes two or more hours of commute time. I always wondered what I would do with extra time. Would I exercise and eat right? (The answer to that is a resounding “no”.) Writing has always been something I've enjoyed. Sometimes, if something bad happened in my life, I would imagine a story inspired by the true events. Only, I'd make it twisty. If someone was a jerk to me, well a character inspired by that person might find themselves killed off in the story, involved in a ridiculous crime, or on the receiving end of sweet karma. Or I would see something happen in real life--maybe a near-miss car accident, or someone buying a winning lottery ticket after they changed places in line, or a stray cat whose eyes told me that he had an interesting story--and I would imagine and wonder “what would happen if” and then I'd write a story about it. I never did anything with the stories and most times they went unfinished. Just the act of writing was therapeutic. I'd always said that if I had the time, I would write. Not just for work, but for fun. Write just for me. Suddenly, the pandemic gave me time--all the time in the world. I was out of excuses. So I started to write. I found a short story contest to enter. Normally, I'm a pretty competitive person. I like to win. But in this case, I was well aware that I was a novice. Knowing this was my first try, I didn't have my usual high expectations or hopes of winning. I was looking at it as a learning experience. I would see if there was any feedback--if they said, “Don't give up your day job” or “Nice effort, try again.” And then came the phone call. My story was chosen for publication in an anthology. It didn't win one of the cash prizes or earn a judges' award, but that was alright. I was going to be a published author! I know I will continue working in the nonprofit field because, after thirty years, it's part of who I am. But now, part of me is an author too. I have a plan. I can see myself, in my retirement years, sitting at my antique desk in front of a big window overlooking the ocean or a tranquil lake with a beautiful sunset in the distance writing--who knows maybe even finishing a book. But I'll be doing the thing I didn't know I could do until the world temporarily closed.
I can't remember the first time I experienced the cognitive dissonance of looking at my body and knowing logically it was mine yet feeling like it was a completely separate entity from my inner world, but I remember the first time I tried to talk about it with someone. I couldn't have been more than seven or eight. This was before the impending deaths of my father and grandfather, and my grandparents were driving me back home after a weekend spent staring at the opium weights they had purchased on a trip somewhere in South Asia. My gaze remained steady as I listened to my grandfather's stories about his time in a camp in WWII, his voice trembling as he vacillated between dark jokes and terrorized tears. My grandmother always said he never left. It was as sunny as always as we turned down the street in San Diego where I spent most of my childhood, claustrophobically so. I peered out the window at a plastic green lawn then down to my hands and thighs, a familiar dissociation overwhelming me as I flexed my tiny fingers, examining the peeling skin around nails I bit so short that they bled. My wrists were always bleeding too, along with the back of my knees and the tender skin around my chapped lips, symptoms of my eczema. Even with medical creams underneath layers of bandages, I still scratched while I slept, ripping myself open over and over. I wonder now if I was trying to penetrate this flesh in an attempt to find some connection to this mind underneath. I'm reading a book about trauma called The Body Keeps the Score. One scientific study found a correlation between autoimmune disorders and significant past traumatic events. These events set off a fight or flight response, and the body can overcompensate so greatly that it begins attacking itself. Eczema is an autoimmune disorder. My recollections of my childhood are shrouded, vague shapes, but mostly obscured. This memory in the car is one of the few I have. Maybe this can be attributed to it being a key exemplifying moment of the disconnection I always felt between both pieces of myself and between myself and others. As I gazed at my tiny thighs- how strange it was that they were so slight! Microscopic in the scope of this planet- I asked my grandparents if they too looked in the mirror and saw foreign beings staring back. I assumed it must be universal, and I wanted to understand why it happened and how to cope with it. My grandmother said she had no idea what I was talking about. I now understand that this fracture was made sometime during the course of my life and is not an intrinsic state, but it's still hard to fathom the idea that most people have never experienced this sensation. I don't remember a time where it wasn't always occurring to some extent at any given moment whether I'm thinking about it- naming it- or not. Even when I do not give it attention or words, it scuttles around in the background of my consciousness. I've found ways to alleviate some of the most distressing aspects of this reality. Tiny needles filled with ink have penetrated my skin, depicting visions congruent with my inner world, reminders that this body is mine. As they increase, so does the reassurance that I'm connected to these limbs. Still, there have been times when the chasm between here and there have felt deeper, even recently. Last spring I spent exactly seventy days alone. Towards the end of this period I was tormented by a delusion I knew to be intellectually impossible, yet some part of me still felt it was real, like experiencing fear while watching a horror movie. You know it isn't happening, but it doesn't stop the nightmares. It consisted of the idea that if I was to look in the mirror I would see nothing there. If I looked at my limbs, they'd disappear before my eyes. The only thing confirming my existence was the heaving inhalation and exhalation of the walls of my apartment. Weeks of words unspoken can make you wonder if you're real. What is the difference between me alive and me dead if there is no evidence that I'm still here besides my own perception? I've come to the conclusion that seeking this sort of reassurance that I'm real from others is futile. When I think of that moment in the car, I am most struck by how much more isolated I felt when there was no solidarity, even lonelier than the seventy days I spent alone. Now I'm trying to connect the veins that pump blood through my body to the veins where intangible, hidden, ancient parts of my being reside. Just as my body is mine and mine alone, so too are the chasms. I'm the only one who can navigate them. I'm hoping someday that this archeological dig through my consciousness that I've embarked on might make me feel present in this corporeal form. It hasn't happened yet, but I'm starting to become the understanding adult the seven year old inside me still aches for. This body might still feel like a complete stranger sometimes, but she doesn't.
It was good in 2019! The day when the first glimpse of this terrible news came, no one had judged, that how dangerous this was going to be till today. This story, is my story, about what was pandemic for me and what I had to go through. It was November 2019, I was working at my job. They spoke about the news that whether it could spread or not. I had just joined the gym, so even my gym trainer told me about this new disease named, “Corona.” I always wanted to make something huge in my life, and my job wouldn't let me do it. Because I had some issues at my job, I had given a resignation letter in March. A few days later, the cases in the whole of India started touching the peak of the sick crowd; due to the outburst, Prime Minister ordered for the complete lockdown in the whole country after two days of the peak. With country lockdown and Corona disease, I felt fallen into a pit from where I lost all the hopes of coming out. I found it difficult to ask my boss to ignore my notice period and grant my resignation because the company were losing their clients due to inefficiency in the pandemic. Out of humanity, I thought to support the company. There was a curfew in the whole country. A city like Mumbai was silent for the first time in ages. Streets that were barking with traffic and horns were now desolated. Unfortunately, the company wasn't able to pay us our desired salary. We got paid even lower than half of our salaries. I sat with a fraught face, wondering what to do next. I motivated myself with pragmatism. Finally, I took a firm decision. “Sir! As per my resignation notice period, please allow me to leave this job. I cannot work with low salary.” Finally, became jobless with a brave mind to fight another battle again. I started laying down the pointers which prominently make us an ideal progressor. Our persona becomes the first impression that headways our career. I worked to improvise my personality, communication and gesturing attitude. It took a while, but that was my big leap after which I saw myself as completely novel. When the mirror spoke for me, I re-joined the baby footsteps who loved writing. I recollected a loft story abandoned many years ago from my laptop. After few months, I started my own business and wrote more. Soon, I published my first novel. It took uncountable efforts to work in the lockdown period. Along with work pressure, came the scary news that said one thing, "the city is in danger." Live images of dying people, misery in the hospitals and the daily count of new COVID cases captured the minds. But belief was the only word that kept me growing, and aplomb was the only key to perform far better from my job in my business. I started hiring people, but I never quit being a learner. Someone said it true, "We never know what we are capable of, unless we are forced in a critical condition with no option, but to fight." Gradually, I became the author of three novels. My family felt noble. Pandemic is tough! But all we need to do is survive. We need to decide, whether we want to survive by bringing the solution to problems or we want to survive by crying over the problems. Think the best, and leave the rest!
The sun was high up in the sky, shining with all its warm glory. I was sitting with my legs crossed on the floor of my room right under the air conditioner, reading. This amount of heat was not a unique sight during the month of June in Delhi. An ideal summer. What else would a just-turned teenager be doing in her summer break? Here I was, enjoying the last of my summer vacation, unaware that my life was about to be changed, entirely. Before long, the sun had started moving to the west and I decided that this was a good time to go cycling with my sister. My sister is younger than me by four years but we are each other's best friends. While I do have some really close friends from school, none have been with me as long as her. After about three quarters of an hour cycling around the neighborhood, I tediously dragged her back to the house. Usually we would have stayed out longer, but not today. Today papa would be returning early and I had to make some serious plans with him. Of course, I couldn't tell this to my sister because then it wouldn't remain a surprise when it was actually her birthday. As anticipated, our dad came back early. It seemed that he was just as excited as me which was a little rude since it showed that he liked my younger sister better. But I let it slide this time. He took off his shoes and was getting freshened up; with me waiting outside his door as a person who really wanted to use the washroom would. As soon as he was done changing, I took him to his room and began flooding him with ideas for what we could do on my sister's birthday. Only he (politely) shut me down immediately. Huh! Had he already made the plans without even including me? I thought. In a still excited tone he said “Calm down, we'll talk about this later. I need to tell you guys something. Let's go out in the living room.” He had to tell us something? But what? Curiously, I followed him. My mom was busy preparing the dinner and my sister staring at the television. My dad went ahead and retrieved some papers from his office bag. He went into the kitchen with me still following him at his tail. He asked my mom to join us outside to which she replied “I am not done with the dinner yet. Can this wait?” Apparently, it couldn't. So, there we were, the entire family sitting in the living room. My dad handed over the papers to my mom and she read. Now me and my sister were both baffled. We tried peeking over our mother's shoulder but before we could get a good look, my mom let out a loud gasp. What was happening? Our parents rejoiced while we just stared at them. After about a minute of this, our dad told us. “I have an interview at our bank's headquarters in Kolkata. They believe that I have been performing really well and now that I have cleared promotional exams, they really suggest I should give the interview.” Okay, so they were just excited about his promotion. I was expecting something more eventful but this could work too. My dad continued “and if I get selected after the interview phase, we could potentially be transferred to Hong Kong.” Okay, what!? Now it was me and my sister's turn to freak out. We could live in Hong Kong? We who had never even set foot outside of our country? This was surreal. I didn't even know that papa's bank had branches in places besides India. My sister and I hugged our dad so hard that we almost knocked him over. The rest of the day (which was only a couple of hours) was spent as we would on a festival. Soon enough, it was time for our dad's interview. We think he had prepared really well for it but wished him lots of luck nevertheless. He returned after two days and informed us that he thought he did well too. We had gotten our hopes up really high and it was not futile. He received the letter days later informing him that he had been selected to work at the Hong Kong branch for his bank and that we had to leave in a month. I don't think I had ever been so sad and excited all at the same time. On one hand, I was getting the opportunity of living outside of India and gaining so many new experiences. On the other hand, however, I had to leave behind so much and so quickly that it made my heart ache. Although I would have my family when moving to a completely new place, I would be leaving behind my two best friends from school (quite possibly the best people I have ever met so far). Throughout my childhood, I had moved from city to city and had to build my whole social life from scratch every time that happened. The thought of going through that one more time overpowered the dopamine rush from hearing such good news. I went through some serious brooding and heartfelt goodbyes after a crazy last month but it wasn't all bad. I constantly reminded myself that I could keep in touch with friends here and make new friends in Hong Kong and that everything will be fine. Turns it out, it was true. To gain something means to lose something else. It just depends on how you look at it.