01 | On isolation creation

"Fuck it, get weird"

Alexa, play “Isolation” by Joy Division.*

I recently revisited a couple of old poem-like things I had written in the early days of social distancing and lockdowns, and was struck by how clearly I could track my own internal progression. At the beginning there was some shock, uncertainty, longing. And then, the overall theme begins to take shape: the pleasure of isolation.

Way back in the mists of time when I decided to pursue writing as a career, I actually considered myself a poet. I was 18, and it was a very long time ago. But something about the pandemic’s isolation touched that forgotten part of my brain that could only express itself through poetry - jangly and primal and emotional and distant.

I think it’s to do with the way poetry fractures language, breaks it open and reworks it into something both nebulous and immediate. It expresses the inexpressible in ways that plain words would destroy. Isolation helped me understand why I’m drawn to these elements, why it was specifically poetry that I wanted to write.

I could feel the mechanisms of my brain realigning during lockdown, and poetry - or poetry-like prose - was the only way to understand why I was changing.

I wrote these recent things mainly in my own Instagram account, but also a bit in @quietestquiet, the writing & photo project I did with my friend, photographer and artist Susanna Kaapu. I was also honoured to have a couple of poems appear in the first issue of the Quarantine Review, and in those poems I can see the pandemic isolation working on my brain the most, can track the visceral moments in which I became the person I am now.

Maybe that’s why I can look back at my pandemic writing as if the pandemic has been over for years. Like everyone, I’m changed. I can clearly see the brackish lines where isolation affected me. And most surprisingly for me, a key part of that change was embracing poetry again, prioritizing creativity and weirdness, honouring my own curiosity. I can’t go back now, to the person I was before, and I’m happy to not even try.

A view of a large, still lake on a cloudy day, reflecting the winter trees and apartment building and houses far on the opposite shore.

⁠March 24, 2020

A ghost of our former lives, I move slowly through a world muffled by rain and distance. I have no destination, but a destination isn’t needed. I encounter few fellow wanderers and we carefully skirt wide of each other. They pass and are gone, a novelty.

I stop to film rain rippling a tree’s reflection in a puddle. Seagulls cry and I remember summers thick with people. I feel for a moment that perhaps it is our duty to record and recall, now more than ever, everything. There is absolute stillness, absolute silence, and the scrape of my sneakers as I move away is the loudest sound.

March 31, 2020

When the world goes quiet, who do we become? Do we distill into our truest selves, or do we seek outward for someone new?

My eyes open to the dark, earlier than ever. Maybe it’s the quiet that wakes me. Or someone else’s stray searching. I stand, my feet cold on the floor as I go to the window, catalogue the changes in the sky, the street, myself. Later there will be attempts at connection and attempts at evasion. My own stray searching. But now, I feel honed by the silent world, sharpened into definition by the fact of my solitude.

May 25, 2020

Remember the warmth of a hand on your arm
Remember drowsing in the passenger seat on a country road
Remember mapping the features of someone's face⁠
Remember eye contact⁠
Remember the possibility in an introduction⁠
Remember learning a person⁠
Remember wandering, letting yourself get lost⁠
Remember getting carried away⁠
Remember strategically choosing a seat on the train⁠
Remember eavesdropping on the train⁠
Remember falling in love with strangers on the train⁠
Remember ordering room service⁠
Remember pushing your toes into hot sand⁠
Remember closing your eyes against dappled leaf-light⁠
Remember lazy patio beer⁠
Remember overlapping voices drifting by⁠
Remember small talk with someone you will never see again⁠
Remember the candour of someone you will never see again⁠
Remember secret smiles across a crowded room⁠
Remember being absolutely alone, surrounded by everyone⁠

October 21, 2020

Days fold together, time stretches and snaps. A closed loop bringing the sense that you have been unmade, the sense that you could be anything at all. Maybe already are. You are honed by solitude, twisting new shapes against a hollow wind. You crack yourself open to see how you work.

February 23, 2021

Come find me in the places where you used to be. Recall our early, empty days, saying too much for the taste of new words. Too much, I split away. There long enough for you to become aware of it, then gone. I circle upon myself, unknown, unknowable. The year circles upon itself and I have always been here, suspended in all days at once. Remembering everything.⁠⁠

June 19, 2021

I'll keep the thought of a cocoon, the unseen descent of my body describing new forms. I'll keep the silent days, a book sliding out of my hand as I watch and remember. I'll keep the brittleness of observation. I'll keep the urge to write strange words and trust they'll find their meaning. I'll keep the pursuit of myself, chasing my own curiosity, my own company. I'll keep my small world for as long as I can. I see the shadows against its papery walls, I see the red veins against the sun. I know what's coming for me. And when I'm finally pulled into the light, who will I be?⁠⁠

*Maybe a little on the nose, but I’ll take Joy Division where I can get it.

How has the pandemic affected the way you create, or influenced your own interests? I’d love to hear!

PS, what I’ve been up to:

I’ve been in a bit of a writing haze lately, and it’s disorienting but truly very invigorating. Invigorating for my mind, anyway. I’m sure my body would appreciate me going outside more - note to self!

Thanks for reading,
- Sg.

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