Benjamin Disraeli, a British politician once said, “There is no education like adversity”. I used to believe that education was something you only studied in a classroom. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic started, my entire perspective on education was significantly altered. There are two different forms of education: knowledgeable education and moral education. Knowledgeable education is primarily acquired from schooling, but moral education is mostly acquired from society around us. After I had already begun my first few months of middle school (Grade Six), it was announced that subject to the pandemic, in-person teaching would end, and students would complete the rest of their coursework online. It was difficult for me to adjust to virtual learning given that I was still fairly young. However, this was not ideal since these first few months of middle school would lay the groundwork for the academic abilities I'd need for the rest of my life. My school's faculty provided me with the emotional and educational assistance I needed to adapt, which was a tremendous help in this area. Although, despite the encouragement and support I was getting from many of my peers, I just didn't want to attend an online school. As a result, I stopped attending online classes and started going for daily walks alternatively, skipping the entirety of my classes. My daily schedule was being completely consumed by my walks. I used to take five-hour long walks. I sincerely don't know how I managed to do that. I was still completing all of my homework, but I was using Google to complete all of my homework, rather than my textbooks, so I wasn't truly understanding the subject. My mental health was undoubtedly getting better, thanks to my daily walks, but my academics weren't doing as well. After completing Grade Six, I kept in the habit of being active, spending the majority of the day on very long walks, and once grade seven began, I was completely absorbed in learning — true learning, rather than just googling everything. Even though I was fully immersed in my education, I was still exercising by taking lengthy walks, but usually after school. Additionally, another similar experience happened. After my two-week winter break, we had a two-week period of online study after spending the first half of the year learning in-person. I detested taking classes online since I was used to going to school in person and seeing all of my friends. But while I was confined to my home and isolated from the outside world, I had a realization that transformed my perspective. I made the decision to do exceptionally well in school, over that two-week period. After we returned to in-person learning, I started working exceptionally hard and started to maintain an open mindset in order to get the grades I really wanted. Obviously, I couldn't get the grades I so desperately desired as my Grade Eight year was halfway through, but I still graduated with honors. Making a solid habit is obviously crucial for success and should be commended. I obviously didn't acquire moral lessons from my virtual education directly, but because of the virtual education, I had to make a change, which ultimately benefited me greatly. Now that I am in my first year of high school, I am excelling with not only fantastic grades, but also a great mindset. But to repeat Benjamin Disraeli's important quote, "there is no education like adversity", I began high school with the same goal of going for very high marks while having a great mindset that I previously expressed, and it has most definitely paid off.
Cans of blueberry preserves, boutique, small-batch handmade bon-bons, organic wildflower honey with comb and Icelandic yogurt --- what do all these items have in common? I found all these items and more in the trash. It's no secret that I love trash. No, I don't mean the smelly, stinky and meant-to-be-actually-dumped kind of trash. The trash that comes from the pursuit of perfect capitalism (which, as it turns out, is anything but). My love of everything dumpster started a month before COVID19 did, just in time too. What's a better way to spend time than rescuing food, outside; a totally harmless and productive activity during a worldwide pandemic? The word "rescue" doesn't really sum up the breadth of what I would find and donate to one of many "community fridges" in my neighborhood. Still, it gives you an idea: I plunge my (usually) gloved hands into the womb of a typical black polyethylene 10 gallon bag, sometimes immaculately and serendipitously free of actual trash and full of boxes, cans or containers of various types of bougie foods, other times, not-so-immaculate. Here's an exhaustive list of items I can remember finding: -Jacques Torres 40-piece bonbon boxes -free-range, organic eggs by the dozen, in bulk boxes of around 10 cases per box -Siggi's, Chobani, Skyr, Fage yogurts (all types and flavors) -egg white omelets, ready-to-eat -all kinds of canned food (including organic beans, coconut milk, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, even dog food) -olive, coconut, macadamia, canola, sunflower oils -multivitamins, elderberry supplements, manuka honey cough syrup -vegan cheeses, tofu, tempeh, beyond meat, hot dogs, yogurt, tofurky (I remember this specifically since I eat all these as a vegan!) -pantry items: cases of all purpose King Arthur flour, Bob's Red Mill flours (teff, coconut, rice, risotto, oatmeal), crackers, snacks, chips, baking mixes, yeast) -prepared foods like pizzas, breads, sandwiches, wraps, Mediterranean meals (grape leaves, falafel, tabbouleh etc) The list goes on, but I won't since I think you kind of get an idea already. Everyone always asks me why I started dumpstering (sic) and I can pinpoint it to one moment: my craving for overpriced (read: bougie) French bread. I had to have it, I didn't want to pay for it. That's when I remembered: as a high schooler working at a bagel shop, I used to have to dump out all the end-of-the-day bagels and pizzas into the trash. Back then, I would cringe whenever I had to do this and actually enlisted my mother to come by for the bagels and pizzas to give out to our friends and family. When that became too much, I would sell them for $1 each in band class. I turned a pretty good profit, too: students are always hungry, which was great for business! So, I applied the same reasoning to the French bread. They must dump their breads out at the end of the day, right? Lo and behold, I visited their dumpster and found a bevy of boulangerie by the bag: baguettes, pastries, cookies, even cake, which I sadly couldn't eat as a vegan, but which I posted to my local Buy Nothing group to the delight of ecstatic carb lovers in my group! After that, I became galvanized to rescue not just bread, but anything and everything edible I could salvage. The waste was not only depressing, it angered me since the media was broadcasting about how there were food and supply shortages, specifically on flour, sanitizer and toilet paper. I was able to find all three in the trash on separate occasions (especially flour, which I found bags and bags of several times). When I was younger, my mother espoused the virtue of never wasting food, no matter the amount. The fact that companies were indiscriminately disposing of perfectly edible and overpriced (funnily enough, the more expensive something was, the more likely it was to be dumped since it was less likely to be purchased, gotta love capitalism) food spurred me to spring into action, on an obsessive-level of passion. After a while, I began to crave assistance and felt that there must be others who would have the same objective as I did. I created an encrypted chat group, which grew to over 50 members. Only a few people show sometimes, but it's still a salve to know I am not alone. Many times, while diving, unhoused or needy persons would come up to me and I always offered them anything I had found and directed them to the nearest community fridge. Time for a round of statistics: in the USA, a whopping 30-40% of the food readily produced is wasted. This doesn't account for food that hasn't yet entered the supply stream (think culled produce and animals deemed unfit for consumption due to appearance or perceived quality), rather, it's food that was already collected, packaged and manufactured. That's about $161 billion dollars of food waste in monetary value (from the year 2010). I hope I've made a dent in that number. I will keep dumpstering, long past COVID19, as long as I can.
“You got this. It's just a walk,” I told myself as I stared at the mirror in my room. It had been so long since I left my house that I forgot how to dress nicely. I had finally chosen my outfit for the day after trying out my whole closet. I closed my eyes and tried to find any positivity but nothing. My shaking legs began walking out of the room while I checked if I forgot anything. “My mask!” I exclaimed. Silly me! We've been in a pandemic for six months but this was my first time wearing a mask. “This is uncomfortable. How can I breathe?” I asked. I readjust my mask to make it more comfortable. Attempt failed. “Let's try this again,” I mumbled. “You got this. It's just a walk,” I told myself as I stared at the mirror in my room. I checked my fit and decided not to change it again since I'd have to look through the piles of clothes. My shaking left leg lifted off the ground and slowly stepped forward. Then it was my right leg's turn. It was surprisingly easier than my left's. I continued my journey and was delighted to find that it was getting easier with every step. “I actually got this,” I chuckled. I said it too early. Well, it was easy until I had to face the most daunting task: opening the front door. My trembling right hand reached inside my left pocket and slowly grabbed the key. I proceeded to insert the key into the keyhole but quickly pulled it back. “Come on, you can do this,” I tried to encourage myself. My right hand approached the keyhole again. But it quickly backed away. Then back towards the keyhole. After a few minutes and a million tries to get my right hand to unlock the door, I picked another option: my left hand. “You got this,” I motivated it before handing it the keys. Click! I did it! I opened the door; it felt magical. I took a deep breath and walked forward. The fresh air calmed my heart and blew away all my worries. It tempted me to take another step. Before I knew it, I was next to my mailbox. I looked around and I could feel a smile forming. I turned to my left and saw my neighbor playing with her grandkids in her yard. She told me she hadn't seen them in so long. She was so happy to finally meet them again. I can't help but smile a bit more. I then turned to my right and saw my other neighbor sitting on his rocking chair. Beside him was an empty rocking chair. The chair belonged to his late wife who passed due to the virus. However, he still made her tea every day. My smile slowly disappeared. I decided to walk to the nearby park. I saw that the park wasn't as crowded as it was. There would usually be kids running around the playground, while their parents were chatting on the nearby benches while also watching their kids. Grr! My stomach growled. I just realized that I was so busy deciding on my outfit that I missed breakfast. I decided to go to the hotdog stand. “Can I get a hotdog?” I ordered as I grabbed my wallet from my pocket. “Only that?” asked the owner. I saw that the owner needed money so I ordered a soda. “Ok, that will be four dollars,” the owner replied. “Here's ten dollars. Keep the change. Hard times?” I felt sorry for the owner. His eyes lit up as I handed him the money. “Ya, it used to be so crowded but now not so. Thanks for the tip,” explained the owner. “I'm sorry to hear that. Have a nice day,” I waved goodbye and sat on a bench. The hotdog was really good and the can of soda was very refreshing. Once I finished my small meal, I decided to jog home using the longer route. I jogged through a neighborhood filled with beautiful houses. However, it wasn't the houses that caught my attention; it was the people. On my right, there was a family playing together in their front yard. I guessed the parents were working from home. To my left, there was a truck filled with boxed meals. There were a few people handing out those meals to the community. They even offered me a meal but I politely refused because I knew someone else needed it more than I did. It suddenly started raining. I didn't know what to do. I was pretty far away from home. Luckily, the people who were handing out meals offered me a ride home. I would usually refuse to get in a vehicle with strangers but these people had good intentions and I didn't want to catch a cold. Several minutes later, I was home and thanked the kind people. I cleaned up and said, “What a new world.”
Thirty-seven days since I've left this room, but for a well-worn set of footprints from here to the bathroom door. My mom brings me food, wondering, worrying, waiting. Am I sick, or is it all in my head? Six weeks ago in the emergency room, plastic-clad doctors handed me a bottle of pills that made me sicker. I hardly blame them. Everyone's scared. There are no lesions on my lungs, so I must be fine. The summer heat is stifling, though the frosted-over air conditioner buzzes without ceasing. This isn't a hospital room, but it has the sounds of one: equipment beeping, fans that hum, heavy breathing, and footsteps in the hall. I'm hardly here, and it's hard to remember later. I know the world went on outside. I know that people died and others wanted to. I know my friends were scared, and there were protests in the streets, and things shut down and opened and shut down again. It's all connected and not. If I were me I would care. Four months since I've left this house, but for scattered sets of doctors appointments. I keep my eyes closed while we drive, but this time when my feet hit the grass they're open. A two-hour trip to meet a puppy. He's tiny and blue-eyed, and he's never been outside either. For a moment I forget the pain and fear and uncertainty when sharp baby teeth cut into my hand and I laugh. Three weeks later I bring him home, and I start to live again. It isn't easy, coming back to a world you've all but left behind. Cooking makes my fingers tremble, and walking makes my legs ache. It will be a year before I drive again. This puppy and I learn it together—slow, up and down stairs. Scary, seeing the world for the first time. I brush his hair and mine, and darkening brown eyes watch me while I do my laundry. He sits in my lap in the drive-through vaccine line. The nurses smile when they see him, cooing as he watches with suspicion. One night he's sick and I sleep on the floor. I come-to with him snoring on my chest. We're in this together. He howls when I go back to school, so he goes to school, too. On weekdays I'm the oldest in my college classes, joyfully learning to think again. On weekends we sit in Petco, learning about separation anxiety. It's common after the pandemic, the trainer tells us, so many pets raised without an owner leaving their side. I think that I have separation anxiety, too. Leaving the house isn't fun, but I learn to do it. I backslide in the winter, old aches setting in again, lungs rattling in the cold. They're still not sure what's wrong with me, and I'm past the point of caring. I just want to be free. My dog loves the snow and I watch him play in it, sneezing when he sticks his nose into the dust. I hang on for him, because we're in this together. He sleeps beside me in bed each night, like he knows that without him I'm not safe. We trudge through the bleak months of winter, pausing to bask in the colored Christmas lights before January sets in, gray and bitter. When the sun breaks through in spring there's a spark of hope. I grasp onto it with both hands, holding onto myself. I can still be the person I wanted to be. Do things truly get better, or do I adjust? I'm not certain it matters. Each day I walk three miles with my dog at my side, trotting in lock-step, nose tilted to sniff the breeze. Sixty days in a row that I haven't stayed inside, even when it rained, even when I wanted to. Healing isn't linear, and by God it's hard. But there were weeks when I didn't leave my room, months when I didn't leave my house. Now when I laugh the sound isn't foreign. I have friends again, and not all of them have fur. I don't watch the world go by outside my window, but my dog still sits with me in my third vaccine line. No one's the same after these two years. There will be scars for decades to come, and not all of them make sense. But as I step back into the sunlight, I feel hope.
* This is just something that I quickly wrote back towards the beginning of the pandemic. I think it's still pretty relevant (though not as much as before), and I just wanted to post this somewhere lol * In the blink of a second, everything has changed. Something that I thought would never happen in my lifetime has taken the world by storm - a global pandemic. COVID-19 has struck and it seems that this virus won't be leaving anytime soon. So what does this mean for us teens? No school!! But while I usually can't wait until a break from school, this isn't something I can be ecstatic about - not when people are dying by the hundreds every day. In order to reduce the risk of catching the virus ourselves, my family and I have shut ourselves in our house. Not that we have much of a choice after Gov Pritzker issued the stay-at-home order. Our teachers gave us work to do at home to make sure we keep our brains active during this time, but there's only so much work they could give that wouldn't be too dependent on the internet - some kids don't have internet access at home (not that I'm saying I've finished everything cause I definitely haven't, but I'd rather not spend 16 hours doing work everyday). So what do I do with all this extra time…? At first, I had no idea what to do. I spent most of my time on my phone watching Youtube videos, kdramas, reading on Webtoon, etc. You know, the basic stuff I do when I want to waste time. Except there's simply too much of it to just do that now… So I had to find a better way to make use of this extra time. I decided to think about what I liked to do - yes, I had to think about it for a while because my brain had been consumed by school for too long. I made a list of these things; - Baking - Drawing/Calligraphy - Writing - Painting et cetera, et cetera … That's when I realized that I have waaaay too many hobbies (heh), but at least I've found a better way to spend my time now. This week I baked breakfast for my family; pull-apart cinnamon roll brioche. Yes, it's as good as it sounds (also as hard to bake). This was only my second time baking it, but I think I did a pretty good job… I also baked a batch of brownies yesterday and they're pretty much gone now - I don't know why, but that makes me happy. I did some calligraphy art to post on my insta, and I'm starting some sketches and paintings to decorate my wall. I can't wait till I start doing DIYs from Pinterest again! I feel like being locked in like this made me re-enjoy the things that I love doing. While I'm still stressed about keeping up with school stuff and making sure I stay safe amidst all this, I feel like I can breathe a bit and calm myself amidst the panic. It's hard to not panic when you can't go outside in fear of catching the virus. Right now, I'm just appreciating how kind people are, and how amidst this crisis, everyone across the globe has been united to fight against this common enemy. To keep my mind off of things that'll worsen my anxiety, I'm going to make sure that all the little side projects and ideas that I've had are completed during this time that I have. I'm not exactly happy about this situation, but that doesn't mean that I can't live through it without panicking. Right now, anxiety and panic is our enemy. I feel like preventing that panic and fear from taking over is what everyone has to do to help - even if you're not battling this virus at the forefront. Stay safe.
Anyway, one time, weather and wildlife got together to form the perfect storm of sorts, when I went inside to use the restroom. An armadillo whispered into my headset that I had so delicately and professionally placed on his back, mistaking him for a pillow. The client mistook his whisper, further garbled by the wind and rain, as my voice. Fortunately, I returned just in time to stop the emergency appendectomy on the patient with poor English skills, as it turned out she just came by to donate some PPE. The selfless, totally professional interpreter that I am, I prevented an awful disaster and another huge lawsuit. All thanks to quick zipping, hand-wash-skipping and pure dumb luck. That's the kind of heroics that, my colleagues and I, and other non-linguist, and therefore not as important, on-line laborers, have had to demonstrate in these tumultuous times. Sadly, it has gone mostly unnoticed. Thankfully, unnoticed just enough for me to keep my job. As much as I enjoy the freedom of working from home in my backyard, I still mourn the loss of dignity of workspace. No crying babies, barking dogs or whistling armadillos. No weather or wildlife in the form of family members, or other random animals adding their own soundtrack to the workday. Just an angry supervisor breathing notes of garlic, convenience store wine, and disapproval on my neck. I especially miss looking out my office window at the park across the street and thinking how cool it would be to work from a bench at the park. Nothing like a pandemic to knock some sense into my feeble psyche.
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!
Lockdown. Here's a word that we used to associate with dictatorship, war, or, in my case, George Orwell's 1984. For a young adult, it seemed unimaginable that I would ever experience times of fear, isolation, and a skyrocketing death rate. It was even more unthinkable that we could get something out of it. Back in March, 2020, staying at home was a chance to recover from life's crazy speed. That is, for most people. Me? I had already been working at home for almost four months as an English teacher for online students in Brazil. There was little change in my routine – I was mostly sorry I couldn't go to the gym, cause I'm an endorphin junky. Of course, we all thought quarantine wasn't going to last. It then became clear we had better get used to Zoom meetings, face-masks, or, in my case, keeping a distance from my family (who wasn't following all the guidelines as strictly as I was – still am). Like all newly bakers, DIYers, yogis, I too put my energy into one task: starting my writing career. With a zillion unfinished stories on my computer and a zillion more in my head, I didn't know where to begin. After all, I was exhausted from all the jobs I had taken thinking they would lead me somewhere, when in fact they were dragging me further from my writing goals. Luckily, I received an email announcing a writing contest for eBooks. And I thought “this is it!” (in reality, I was probably thinking, “why not?”). I only had a couple of months to do what most writers take years to accomplish: finish a story and publish it. After selecting one short-story that wasn't so bad and kind of had an ending, I rewrote it, revised it, then turned it into a great eBook (with the help of my uncle to design the cover). Basically, I was the writer, agent, editor, launch team of my first book. When I sent a message to my mom, with a link for purchasing her daughter's first published book, she had to call me to make sure she got it right: “What is that link you sent me? Is that a book? Your book? How did you do it?” And I was thrilled to have finally done it! After all, I had been dreaming of this feat ever since I drew/wrote a book about a mermaid when I was seven. As a perfectionist, though, I wanted to go further. My self-published, barely revised book couldn't be my only one. That's when I decided to really pursue my career as an author (at last, I can call myself that). So I quit one of my jobs (the one as an English teacher) and started writing a new novel in 2021 – its first draft is already complete, and I'm currently working on editing it (this time, to send to a literary agent). Also, I knew that, as amazing as that eBook was (a true accomplishment for the little time that I had), I needed lots of help on how to write mesmerizing stories, pitch them for agents, build my online platform (which I'm still working on, btw), promote my future books… So, I took some free classes (remember, I quit my job) and sent my draft to a friend who reads the same kind of genre to get some feedback. What I've learned so far from this process? That it only takes a crazy pandemic to make people rethink their life choices and pursue their dreams. Kidding. Sort of. I did learn that there are many master classes, webinars, blog posts, and guides that really are helpful to writers who want to focus on this part of their lives without spending any (or little) money. So let's take those Covid-19 lemons and make some lemonade!
I have stacked copies of our company's guidelines for working from home where the missing leg of the cheap plastic chair once proudly stood, but the chair is still shaky. I have been telling my video clients that my Florida office is located right on top of a fault line in the neighboring state of California where such tremors are a common, daily occurrence this time of year, meaning year-round. It is a testament to the strength of our K-12 education and endurance of culturally inflicted geographical unawareness in this country that no one has questioned the validity of that statement. Florida borders California on the left, Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south. You never know when our prestigious high school education is going to play a crucial role in someone's career. Being outdoors have caused many technical issues. Especially on Thursdays, when we hang our laundry on the ethernet cable. It was a company requirement to have a hard wire connection. Otherwise, I'd be stealing Wi-Fi from the county jail down the street like everyone else. The county does change the password weekly, but one of the fine overgrown teenagers in the neighborhood is sure to go to jail every other day. So, the whole community has the updated password all the time. Because I was having issues constantly, with or without wet laundry hanging, and because the wired internet connection idea was theirs, my company set up a satellite IT office in my front yard, staffed by a technician around the clock to address my issues. I don't call tech support anymore. I just yell "help!" and the technician runs right over with the neighbor's two pit-bull dogs in hot pursuit. The technician is not only a well-trained network engineer, but he is also a very good runner. The company must train these guys extensively or hire only Olympic athletes. Even so, he had to get a few stitches last week when one of the dogs was able to catch up with him, but only because he tripped on our high-tech irrigation system which consists of a garden hose running from the kitchen window to the backyard. Having the technician camp out front has given my whole family such a renewed sense of security that I cancelled my security monitoring service agreement with my neighbor where we tied a long trigger wire rope to one of his dogs' tail at nights. We alternated nights with each dog. On Sundays when my neighbor drives his mother to church, they need both dogs to secure their own house to protect his extensive collection of vintage garbage bags, in case one of our many unscrupulous, sketchy neighbors was tempted. So, on Sundays, both dogs were on garbage detail. And they detailed the heck out of those garbage bags full of vintage garbage. And there were plenty of yelling and re-bagging of priceless garbage going on every Sunday afternoon when the neighbors came home from church. The good news was, because the dogs needed Sundays off, a raccoon, well known in the neighborhood for his mischievous escapades, got gainful employment, albeit part time, as our weekend security guard. The cancellation of the dog-powered alarm system saves me money because now I don't have to buy their owner a generic six pack of beer every week. The raccoon only worked for food, which he would have stolen anyway, so that is a net gain of zero dollars. He is still well-fed. While mostly a good thing, working outdoors does come with unique challenges in the form of wildlife and weather. Apparently, a raccoon perched on your shoulders is not a "professional look" for our company. The same goes for bird poop on our company shirt. Even when it lands smack in the middle of the company logo where color was sorely lacked. I personally thought it added an old-worldly charm and said, in vividly bright colors that only genuine bird poop can bring out: "we are one with nature", or "we are not a fashion, nor a fashionable company", depending on the bird dialect. I am an on-line medical interpreter, and as a professional linguist, I can appreciate these little nuances better than anyone. The weather is a harder pill to swallow. The constant howling of the wind and rain is sometimes perceived as words that no one uttered, causing many anecdotal issues, some leading to lawsuits which I am not allowed to talk about due to a 'gag order' as some cases are still under litigation. For those of you who are not professional linguists, or are not otherwise well-versed in legal jargon because they're not lawyers, judges or criminal entrepreneurs from the other side of the fence, I will pause here while you go and look up the words 'gag order' and 'litigation' in your favorite dictionary app. Or if you live in a different time zone, say 1970's, you can use an actual print dictionary. You know, like a book.
I was one of the few “lucky” ones. I worked from home. I enjoyed very much the quiet solitude that came from dramatically reduced human encounters. And the complete lack of traffic on my way to the spare back room. I complemented my insincerely professional look of company-issued, increasingly cardboard-crisp shirt with an even crisper Manchester United tie. The tie, totally unsanctioned by my employer, is a conscious nod to my repressed middle-school-aged inner child, and my proud contribution to internet fashion. It is also the second adrenaline-pumping risk I take on the job after the laptop radiation. Below the waist, I went weekend casual, as per the Florida state-mandated indoor dress code, with sun-starved chicken legs crowned with boyfriend boxers the last girlfriend purposefully left behind eons ago. I had already become a poor imitation of Howard Hughes. The same hygienic fortitude and social finesse, but with much less financial gusto. Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly, everybody started working from home. I was no longer a lone soulless internet grazer. I was joined by countless others. As a side order with this god-awful new reality, came the fact that now everybody was doing everything from home, not just their jobs. With all this widespread home-schooling, home-quarantining, and general home-hoarding, not to mention all this working-from-home, working from home became a challenge. Before all this, my family was never home together at the same time other than at bedtime when everyone went to their separate slumber pods, thus minimizing any risk of togetherness. We now found ourselves having to make some grand adjustments to survive our newly congested hallways, bathrooms, and the overall airspace. According to a certain individual I do not wish to identify for fear of retribution, whom I will refer to as “a household member of opposite gender with veto powers”, our normally quite roomy house stopped being roomy. We started losing square footage and air volume for no apparent reason. We were experiencing a severe shortage of breathable air and quiet serenity. Somehow, we popped a leak somewhere, and apparently it was not where three children whined annoyingly, two dogs barked loudly, and a certain female yelled lovingly. It turns out, the leakage concentrated around my little corner of the house where I had set up shop for quietly working from home, away from all the disruptive elements. Just like all other mysterious phenomena at our house such as missing items, broken toys, unexplained smells and unprovoked smirks, this, too, was deemed my fault. Something had to change. They had the numbers. I had the neatly nested red circles on the back of anything I might wear. As any self-respecting hunter knows well, by moving, a target can avoid getting hit in vital organs. But with that comes the risk of debilitating wounds with life-long disability implications. Faced with equally rewarding choices, I decided a coin toss is the prudent thing to do. The coin was shot in the air with a perfectly symmetrical hole right in the middle. She may not be able to tell a ladle from a spatula, but she sure can handle a firearm. Another reason well-justifying my decision to marry local. So, I had to move. Thus changed my ‘working from home' situation. Technically, I am no longer working from home, but rather, working from behind home. Age of internet, meet the great outdoors! I hung my blue backdrop from a tree in the back yard. I placed my laptop on an old, rusty barbecue grill dumped in my backyard by a recycle-weary environmentalist neighbor that has not grilled anything since colonial times. The grill disintegrated into dust immediately, so a nearby tree log dating back only to my childhood became my new workstation. Unlike cheap metal and social conscience, some trees just don't decay, I guess. My throne is a plastic lawn chair that is missing a leg, compliments of a wayward alligator who obviously mistook it for a four-legged white bird. We either have strangely mutated birds, or alligators with severe eyesight issues. Those obese lizards can spot a mischievous cat, small child or a clueless tourist hooking bait in shallow water from a mile away. So, my money is on the foul-smelling tint on the lake, causing mutations, compliments of the nuclear power plant down the river. Freaky creatures are such commonplace occurrences here that at the maternity ward shop they sell balloons that say, “it's a baby with all four, and only four limbs”. That gator is just fine. He's got better than 20/20 on all three eyes.
I've always been a planner. Some might even say over-planner. In fact, my mom recently reminded me of when I was in high school and just starting to consider colleges. I was near a breakdown, insisting that I had to decide my future major in college and what career I could get from it, before I could even consider looking at schools. So my exasperated, yet somehow patient mom sat down with me and did an evening of research on majors and career paths. We even looked at job postings for entry-level jobs I could apply to after graduation. “I don't know how to do some of these things mom. I can't do this!” I had claimed in true drama queen style. My mom probably wanted to laugh or strangle me, but she instead explained, “Sweetie, you have six more years of school. You'll learn those things.” So, with those words, I chose my focus and my career that night; English major aiming to be an editor. Since then, things have changed a lot. I haven't exactly followed the path my 16-year-old self decided on. I did not end up becoming an editor at a publishing house, although I did edit all of my college roommate's essays. The one thing that hasn't changed though, is that any large decision I have ever made was spent in a similar way; sitting down and doing hours of research to plan out the next step. However, a worldwide pandemic has a way of completely throwing us off the path we were walking down. This past year has been full of plan-ruining and re-making. This year I moved across the world. Moving (of course) took lots of planning, but everything I had planned nearly vanished when we were suddenly stuck in quarantine. I'd had everything laid out and researched- but none of that mattered anymore. Nothing was secure. All plans became like ungraspable smoke, dissipating into the air, causing hazy confusion. At first I was convinced everything I had worked for was completely ruined. I wouldn't be able to go, I'd be stuck at home, still living with my parents. None of this was part of my plan. My options were simple; remain lost or start peering through all the smoke and find new plans. I chose the second option. I was still going to move, I just had to leave the US a month later than I had thought. I was still going to work, just in a different city than I had hoped. I was still going to move into my first apartment alone, just without my mom helping me settle in. I embraced the stress that I was feeling and I gave my two weeks notice at my then-job. My coworkers thought I was crazy. Moving in the middle of a pandemic— there wasn't even a vaccine yet! I reassured them I would be fine, even though I wasn't 100% convinced of that myself. All I was sure of was that I couldn't let this opportunity go. I booked my flight only a week before leaving. Soon after I landed, I started my job as an assistant English teacher, with a work contract only from October until June. I had wanted to travel around Europe, but the pandemic made it impossible to even leave the community where I was living. Instead, I fell in love with the city where I was stuck in for the next few months. I became an expert at using every type of public transportation. I found the best Indian food restaurant for nights out with my girlfriend. I even adopted a cat, and decided to foster a pair of kittens. My life was in full swing, until the end of the school year. The end of my contract. Now here, I find myself once again sinking into the awful unknown of my next step… well for the next four months, anyways. I have four months of non-concrete work and this pandemic is still happening. I haven't been without a solid reliable job since I started college. How am I going to survive? My worries have started surrounding me and spinning all over, through my mind, and out of my mouth. My girlfriend tells me I'm spiraling as I start crying to her about the dreaded unknown, the risks, the lack of planning for this summer. I tell her that I'm going to end up homeless on the street with my three cats in a box. She starts laughing. I can't help but join in. Maybe I am spiraling, just a bit. The unknown has always been something uncomfortable for me. Yet here I am living on the sunny Mediterranean coast in a country known for saving worries for “mañana”. Despite teaching some private classes and having endless support from my family, a part of me thinks it won't be enough. However the other part of me has earplugs in and is encouraging me to just jump, because this time I can't let the unplanned hold me back from enjoying my life. I can't let the unknown keep me awake at night worrying. Right now, life in this pandemic is all smoke. Every day is hazy, because it's all still unknown. We can't change this, but we can breathe it in. Our lives can't always be confined within our plans, or our calendars. That's something this pandemic keeps teaching me.
Why I don't Want Lockdown to End. By Natascha Graham There are the obvious reasons why I don't want lockdown to end: potential death being the forerunner. I'm severely asthmatic and a part of the “clinically extremely vulnerable” group, so let's just say that catching COVID wouldn't be the best idea. But it is the other feelings and emotions that go alongside the fear of death that seem to have acquired some sort of mob-mentality and are bashing me over the head at every available opportunity. Anxiety. That's a big one. Anxiety rules all others, never shying away from the front centre stage, anxiety takes her role seriously and can stop me from entering a shop even before I have planned on visiting one. Then, curtseying to anxiety (and sometimes intertwined with), comes panic - this can range anywhere from, Oh God, I've forgotten my mask/accidentally gone out in my pyjamas/forgotten to book a Tesco delivery slot and now I won't be able to get one until two months time to wondering if it's COVID every single time you feel even vaguely unwell. Then there is the sense of loss. Nostalgia even. Gone are the first few weeks of the pandemic, when the UK went into what is now somewhat ruefully known as “Lockdown 1”, and we spent our Thursday evenings waiting for 8 PM when everyone in the country would stand on their front doorsteps to clap or bang together pots and pans to cheer for the NHS. Gone too are the 11 AM mornings when people in my street would play music and dance together (socially distancing of course) in the middle of the road. I have a fondness for those memories. In the beginning of the pandemic, there was a feeling of panic. No one could find a bag of flour for love nor money, and everyone was buying out all the bloody toilet roll, but somewhere within that, once the panic began to fade, there was the feeling of community, an old-fashioned sort of communities pulling together feeling which was reminiscent of the war that can only be imagined by myself, having been born in the late 80's. We were all in this together. And I felt that. My wife and I coped by digging a vegetable and herb garden. We nurtured seedlings from seeds, grew potatoes from potato peelings and learned along the way how to (and how not to) create a garden that worked. While doing this we swapped seeds and plants with people nearby, conversing and making arrangements via Facebook Marketplace and then leaving the plants on the doorstep with instructions to drop the money through the letterbox. Even this was a form of connection that felt like it meant something. So often things don't feel as though they truly mean something anymore. And maybe that's just me, but I don't really think that it is. Don't get me wrong, my heart ached every single time the death toll rose, and I felt as annoyed as the next person when I spotted a lunatic wearing their mask on their chin, or beneath their nose, or pulling up a scarf or sleeve over their mouth, and I felt and inordinate amount (and still do) of rage toward people who come within about six metres of me, my wife or our children (never mind the two metres). As a society we get up, we go to work, we come home, and in between there is a lot of complaining about what time we have to get up, the work we are doing, and how little time we have to ourselves when we get home. Then for people like me who work from home, there's the loneliness and isolation that comes with that. Ironically, and surprisingly, I felt less lonely at the beginning of the pandemic than I have ever done before. For once, we were a united front. Great Britain and the world joining forces against a virus that was keeping us apart. We had a social distancing VE Day, we looked out for each other, and people came together to form groups to collect prescriptions and other things for vulnerable people. People looked out for one another, on the whole - there were still some nitwits, but on the whole people truly cared for one another. I don't want to be confined to one country, and I don't really want to live in lockdown forever, or be unable to visit pubs or shops, but I do want to keep a hold of that sense of community that seemed to flourish so quickly, only to die a death, along with any hope we had of returning to normal life, at the end of lockdown 1. I have never felt as firmly connected to others as I have done during the beginning of the pandemic, and I miss it now with the same pang of nostalgic wistfulness of childhood - the kind that makes your chest ache, and if we take anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, let it be that. A sense of community, of looking after one's next door neighbours, and of others. Of being kind, and truly caring for those around us.
It is no secret that we are living in a crazy time right now, one that we have never seen before. I do not think anyone could have ever prepared us for the dramatic changes that the COVID pandemic has inspired. I do not think anyone could have prepared us to handle the pain-staking death toll that this virus has brought about. I feel as though that is how tragedy works, though. Even though we think we are prepared for major events to happen in life, there is nothing that can be done to prepare us for the consequences of a horrific event, no matter if the outcome is expected or unexpected. As sad and frankly shameful as the pandemic handling has been in the United States, there are also positives in the situation as well. I believe that there are positives in every situation in life, even if you have to search high and low for them. I believe that the pandemic has strengthened many relationships due to all of the time most of us have been having to spend together in close quarters. This either has strengthened your relationships or made them worse. Do not worry, though, you are not alone. We have all been stuck together, and we all get on each other's nerves after long periods of time together. In the case of being homebound most of the time, this pandemic often just felt like my normal life. I have Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, and as a result, I have to be dependent on a wheelchair to move about my days. To many people reading this, this might sound like a nightmare. It is really not that bad, though, and if it is all you know, it is what you adapt to. I am not able to work a normal job due to chronic pain issues and extreme fatigue. As a result of both of these issues, I am used to being home at least 5 days-a-week with the exception of medical appointments and the occasional grocery trip. When the pandemic first began, I honestly found solace in the fact that a large number of normal people were experiencing what it was like to live within the confines of a limited lifestyle. Even though this led to an increase in cabin fever for many, it was almost like everyone else had developed a sense of understanding when it came to my lifestyle and the opportunities that exist, albeit limited. Many of you were forced to find and discover new hobbies and activities that you enjoyed doing to fill the empty spaces. I can definitely relate to that idea. Coloring has always been a hobby for me. It carried through with me from my childhood. It has been a huge relief for me throughout the hard times last year and through the problems that we have yet to overcome this year. Coloring has been significantly helpful in treating both my anxiety and depression. I am confident that there has been an increase in depression throughout these times. It is not only understandable but relatable. There is nothing wrong with asking for and receiving the help that you may need. I am sure that there are people in your groups of family and friends that are willing to help you along your journey, and if you find that their advice is not sufficient, you can always seek the professional help of a therapist or counselor. Needing help in life, especially during significantly tragic events, does not make you weak. If anything, it makes us human and more compassionate about life. I am often asked how I am so happy and in an even-keeled mood most of the time, even when times get hard. The secret is actually not much of a secret and it is not that hard to maintain. It is that I am grateful for everything I have in life. I count and rely on my blessings every single day to help me along my life journey, which is both arduous and amazing.
I expected to enlarge my world March 2020, attending a conference, discovering Wisconsin, and visiting relatives. Instead, my world grew smaller in the minutia of coordinating quarantine, navigating a pandemic, and fighting stagnation. When I became ill with flu-like symptoms, the world was normal—the construction of a major roadway through town, work schedules, and meeting and greetings of family. Nobody wore masks. I only met doctor with flu-like symptoms because of the virus in the headlines. My fear motivated me to be cautious of a disease spreading like the rainfall of brown needles below pine trees just beyond my patio. I was told not to worry because Little Rock, Arkansas is not an international transportation hub and our first case didn't come until the next day. Strep, flu tests, and upper respiratory panel sent off negative. For four weeks and two illnesses, I remained in quarantine. I was too ill to do anything, but according to local officials I wasn't ill enough to warrant breaking quarantine to be tested. It was safer preventing me infecting others or preventing someone else infecting me. My pets, cat Ricochet, and parakeets, Widget and Whimsy, were my only companions, so, for me keeping everyone safe was easy. I didn't leave the house, besides a couple of times, for a few minutes, stepping out in my patio garden lush with new growth and colorful pansies and removing bags of trash. I didn't touch the outside of my door, giving friends, putting themselves at risk with my needs, time to walk away before pulling supplies in. I saw no faces—masked or not, for almost every minute of a month. My birthday passed without note. I wasn't well. My life boiled down to mundanities. Despite depression and being introvert, I socialize, run errands for myself and my family of pets, and see doctors and therapist. Those lifelines were sharply cut. The only way I survived was through kind friends. Within my four walls extraordinarily little was done. I was often content to just lie down, staring up at my smooth cream ceiling staccatoed by the shadow of my fan blades. I journaled of pet interactions; fighting with my landlord over the ac which ended up 6 ½ weeks out; grief of my lost opportunity to travel; and the rain. The world wasn't well. The New York Times headlines told me all I needed to know about the world. Social media also told me what people were doing individually—working from home, coming up with a variety of ways to make masks, businesses shutting down with many jobs lost, people spitefully coughing on others to get ahead, and a growing online way of life for everyone—from museum exhibit to workshop video. The pandemic and weather eventually put me in a real funk, and I wondered what my mundane, monotonous notes contributed to people. It is easy to forget the global pandemic of such disasters as the pandemic. I thought about how even I, a thousand miles and without family or friend connection, couldn't imagine a pain greater than that which wrenched my heart or imagine the pain of those families there that day the Towers fell in New York City. So many lives lost or affected. As the headlines bolded New York's pandemic death toll from the pandemic as surpassing those in the World Trade Center, I wondered why I didn't feel about this greater disaster as I still do about the day the lives of those in World Trade Centers, Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania The pandemic was more than within my four walls. It was millions of people around the world touched in ways similarly and differently. People in hospitals were cut off from loved ones for fear of infection. People worried in lines over test results. Millions of people in the US alone lost their jobs and wondered how they would pay electric, water, grocery bills. Battles were fought in government agencies and among government representatives. Supplies like bathroom tissue ran short. The creative made masks and patterns for masks. Gatherings and vacations were canceled, enclosing or separating families and friends to the same four metaphorical walls as mine. People were bored. They were angry. They were anxious. They also looked forward to a future when all this is behind us. I was and did too. I hope writers also document people making the best of a bad situation by celebrating in parades; the pedagogical community overcoming obstacles to continue education; beautiful sunsets and sunrises created by lower emissions; laughter over the unending board games, movie marathons, and, yes, the hunt for toilet paper; and how people rallied not just for themselves but for those around them. I still wear my mask and practice social distancing. I still play with pets and tend my garden. I have picked up work on my portfolio defense for the fall—my graduating semester, and I am revising an independent study I hope to publish. All these things I write in and about are groundwork on which to build the rest of my writing and global life.
subconscious ordeal* It was a cool Saturday evening, I went to watch a football match which ended at around 11 p.m. I decided to trek home since I had no money left on me. On my way home, I passed through a scary bush path that was supposed to make my journey Short(apian way as we fondly call). While walking through the scary bush path, I started hearing sounds of birds which seemed normal at first, so I walked further. The sound became scary this time, which activated my adrenaline, hence I took to my heels. The sounds came with a terrible breeze and a nice scent which made me wonder where the scent was coming from. I paused afterwards, just to observe if someone was coming behind. My body trembled in fear when I saw no one. However, I could still perceive the scent even more which convinced me that someone was definitely following me, and this heightened my fear. Nevertheless, I summoned up courage and continued my journey home. This breeze came again, but this time with a terrific scent and horrible sound from various angles which frightened me the more. Swiftly, I saw a lady pass, and all of a sudden my heart started beating fast, and my head in turn weighed more than my body could carry. Surprisingly, the lady made her way through the bush and I lost sight of her. That moment, I felt a slow yet heavy slide down my pants, I then realized I had dropped a liquid excrement. My eyes saw my ears and I thought the end had come. Slowly and steadily, I sped off, taking an unknown direction which seemed to be a path leading towards a cemetery. Unknown to me, I was heading closer to the end of my existence! The devil was calling unto me and I was running to him for rescue unknowingly. As I ran and shouted for help along the road leading to the cemetery, I could only hear terrifying laughter and voices and that increased my speed. I felt the earth rotating and I staggered to hold a balance. I was bewildered at the things I saw. First was a grave epitaphed "the end is near", I trembled. Again, I saw a sculpture dripping what seemed to be blood. That moment, I knew I just paid the fallen angel a visit. From a distance, I saw a creature wearing a white cloth with gray hairs all over her head, her face was so wrinkled that I could barely see her eyes. I just saw a ghost. Unbelievable! I was so scared to death that I had to run; but the farther I ran, the closer she came. I was so confused on what to do that I forgot God, I forgot to pray. My body was vibrating as if I was being electrocuted, my clothe was drained with sweat and I felt cold under a very scotchy sun. I gave up the run and Immediately, I heard the woman saying "welcome my son, don't be afraid because tonight you have made the right choice" come and see what place I have kept for you. I was calling death to come soonest before she touches me but little did I know, she was death herself. Nothing was working at this point. Before I knew it, I was down, struggling to free myself from her grip. Then I had one very last choice to make, facing the evil itself amidst my fears. I turned to look straight into her eyes but all I could see was a burning fire with a sharp tooth desiring a fest. Her mouth was full of blood and her hands and legs were so terrible that I nearly puked. The devil abducted me and starved me for five days. I lost my last strength and hoped I could die away. On the fifth day, I saw the same figure marching towards my direction, in her hand was an axe glittering. She scratched it against a wall hoping to send fear across. She succeded, because all I knew at that point was fear. I couldn't move a limb not to talk of speak. I saw death. When she was close enough, she raised the axe above my head and immediately, I jerked from my slumber to a realization that I had been in coma for two weeks. Just then, I wondered why I had to see the devil while I was still alive. Story by cheif host