We Exist Together

As the devastation of the pandemic over the coming months pulls into focus, that the deaths from this virus will in a best-case scenario outweigh the total lives lost in the Vietnam War, I am brought into contact with my personal experiences of grief: my father’s death, friends with chronic illnesses, romantic relationships ending, and my feelings of insignificance in impacting global catastrophes: systemic violence, discrimination, land theft, factory farming, environmental pollution. How do you exist in a world where pain and loss exist on such incomprehensible scales? How do you create art? Is it selfish to?

As a strong believer in maintaining a morning routine not only as a spiritual practice, but as a way to intentionally move into my day with clarity, this is where I’ve found my grounding. Wake early, free write and sketch, meditate, bring my dog outside or better yet for a long walk, take my coffee to my desk and write until my alarm goes off, which signals the start of my work day. Knowing there’s an alarm set to bring me into awareness of my responsibilities allows my mind to roam freely.

Then I sit and reply to emails from my stream of freelance clients, switching between tasks, checking off to-do lists as I make a smoothie, walk the dog in a proximity of my home that feels safe and not a selfish risk. After working, I move towards possibilities for community within our new, shared reality. I assist with virtual screenings from my local film society’s archives. I have a Zoom happy hour with old friends. My sister-in-law sends me dance videos. I exchange yoga sequences and recipes with a friend in Colorado. I attend virtual sessions with my acting coach. I edit a short film. I attend virtual writing groups. I commit to providing myself with evidence that there are endless possibilities to create, that I am enduring. I commit to joy.

Also apparent in my routine is that I am not dealing with illness myself, nor that of anyone in my immediate circle. Though I’ve lost thousands of dollars in work and will likely lose more, I am able to live temporarily with my family while I regain my financial independence. I have food. I am safe. These are necessary gratitudes.

But safety is only one metric to track. Though I am staying connected, in service, active, laughing — in my own words written over and over when colleagues and friends check in, “I’m doing well,” there are moments when I am not. After a recent two-hour trip to the drive-thru pharmacy to refill medication for my grandmother, I found myself pulling over to scream. I stopped the car a block away from my house and hollered, banging my fists against the wheel. It felt like I was only now aware of weeks of fear and anger I’d pressed deep into my body with all of my doing, all of the habits keeping me afloat. Humans are resilient, adaptive, and flexible. The challenge of thriving under these conditions has obvious parallels to the climate crisis and any international tragedy. As with the climate crisis, I wonder how much optimistic visioning is warranted, and possible, under such conditions. How much creative imagining is necessary in order not merely to survive but for a solution to emerge? How many hours before our daily alarm do we need to wake in order to keep ourselves moving forward, and who are the ones doing the waking?

Global, shared grief and (for the most part) shared, large-scale community response reveal a great potentiality within us. This experience also reveals the enormity of bureaucratic and political delays that produce such long held-in screams of why the hell did it take so long to do something? Because I see myself as an artist, and am fortunate to be connected to and engaged with other artists, such as those at Reckoning, who refuse to let our time under any horrid condition result in total silence, I hope for now what I would hope for during any enormous loss: renewal, rebirth. To begin again. To believe in the simultaneity of loss and hope.

 

—April 1, 2020

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Author: Juliana Roth

A multi-genre writer and educator raised in Nyack, NY, Juliana Roth is the creator of the narrative web series, The University, which follows the bureaucratic failures of a university in the aftermath of a sexual assault on campus. Juliana worked in programming and communications for the Ecology Center, the Center for the Education of Women, and the World Animal Awareness Society. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Entropy, VIDA Review, Irish Pages, The Atticus Review, The Establishment, Yemassee, among other publications. Currently, she is a Publishing Fellow with the Los Angeles Review of Books at the University of Southern California. You can find her here: www.julianaroth.com

One thought on “We Exist Together”

  1. Hello Juliana, thank you, well said. After reading I felt that I could settle a little more into my own weight which I have been floating above as of late. To not feel my deep feelings of all that surrounds me. Too sensitive, always. But, I too have been writing and yes, the challenges of thriving is having a direct impact on where to emerge. I am an actress as well. A live audience is everything to me. I have resisted the ZOOM room, but now I too have grown. I think optimistic visioning followed by daily steps is a big yes! There is one thing that I have discovered during this explosive change and that the urgency that lies just underneath that exuberant unknown. It adds fire and clears the webs.
    I, we, may be the ones doing the WAKING.

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