Students reflect on Corona in writing and photography
For many, the 2020 Fall semester has been a strange experience. In November, students of two creative writing courses were asked to reflect over this term in writing. Here are some those reflections. The text are accompanied by photographs taken by students in the course The Photographic Image.
About the Writing Corona-assignment
This has been a different term. For students, for staff, for anyone connected to the university, and for all of us as people. In November I asked the students of the two Creative Writing courses to reflect over this term in their form of expression, in writing, and many did, in all kinds of wondrous ways.
This collection of stories is a snapshot of the present and an insight into the minds of students grappling with the situation. Who, despite everything, are managing to write beautiful, funny, touching and true pieces of literature.
Reacting to the present is always fickle, as it should be, but I hope that once we are past this we can go back and look at these pieces, encased in an online time capsule, and see that despite everything there were touches of colour to the grey clouds, a palette these students, and many others, helped create.
I am thankful to all the students in general who are doing great work, and in this case, to those who submitted slivers of themselves to be arranged in a sort of Christmas disco ball of emotions, impressions and dare I say it, quiet affirmations that stories will be part of what can carry us, even through this.
– Martin Cathcart Frödén, Lecturer in Creative Writing at the School of Arts and Communication
Photo by Hanna Thelander
There it is
insidiously creeping up on me
stroking my leg between the sheets
sneaking in through the space where my feet
are not fully tucked in
and it crawls up beside me
wrinkling the sheets, flattening the pillows
announcing itself and its sweaty presence
taking up space alongside my body
accidentally touching my lower back
so I rise
sit myself down on the edge of the bed
let my legs stretch down to the floor
there is no jumping in this step
no moving the hair over to the right shoulder
and no arms reaching towards the ceiling
only this sitting state
and that back, terribly shaped.
My body is stretched out horizontally across the sofa. Reaching out my right hand to touch the keyboard. The camera and microphone are turned off. I just needed to appear like I am “attending” the meeting. I turn my body to the side and squint my eyes to see the screen. I decide to rest for a minute, or two.
It feels like breathing under water. I try to fill my lungs with air. Impossible. My t-shirt is soaking wet. I run up towards the middle of the room. My breath is short and shallow. The room is spinning. I try to fixate my gaze on something familiar. The white and black photography, portraying my grandmother.
I can feel how my inhalations are slowing down. I turn my head towards the window. Still daylight. The leaves are shifting in red and yellow. Mesmerising. The computer is trying to poke for my attention, with its purring sound. I close down the screen and start to scroll sporadically through the millions of apps on my phone.
I feel how my cheeks are getting wet. How absurd. The world is falling apart, and I was panicking. For what? I hear my father’s voice in my head; “breathe and get yourself together”. I try to follow his advice. The tears are still running.
I hover my finger over the app that I had forbid myself to open. I hesitate for a second. The air feels stuffy. I open the window and a sweet aroma fills the room. I should go for a walk. I tell myself this every day. I wish someone else was around to nag on me.
I open “the off limits” app and start the routine. Lifting my left thumb to swipe. Mainly to the right, aiming for men with decent look and kind eyes. I could see some unanswered messages. I get excited for a few seconds. Truly pathetic.
I put on some Netflix instead. Something braindead and easy to digest. I see a notification from my friend in the upper right corner on the screen. Letting me know she will not make it to our “FaceTime date”. I feel an emptiness in my stomach. Hungry or disappointed? Both perhaps. I walk the two meters to “the kitchen”. My daily cardio nowadays.
I put a jacket over my t-shirt, which is still drained in sweat. I open the door and step out. The sky is covered in pink and orange shades. A serene picture, in contrast to the current state of “the world gone mad”.
The streets are filled with people. I get anxious. A guy passes and smiles. Or did he? Probably my wishful thinking. I can’t seem to remember the last time I had some kind of human interaction. I keep my head down and start walking.
There is a mini virus
Captured our lives
Nature gives us a lesson
If only we see this
It was all about me
There is no room for others
I am the centre of the universe
The rest is out of my cautious
I care only my needs
All resources serve to me
My ego higher than us
My desires are limit-less
While sitting in my glassroom
I wish I were in my classroom
Is it too late to have a change?
I genuinely miss my social exchange
Online learning is a comfort zone
Everything is easy with microphone
Only human touch is missing
Which can not replace with anything
I rarely go offline these days. It is as if I am overwhelmed by doomsday fear that if I lose my connection to the world of internet something ominous beyond my control will heave into sight.
This is one of those nights that I deliberately forgot to use my asthma inhaler with the hope that I will cure this mild condition of mine by simply eliminating its source of relief which come to think of it does not make much sense. I can hardly breathe as I walk downstairs to get hold of my only lifeline to the breathing world. I can’t help noticing that the laptop on my basement office desk is still turned on not out of negligence as one might suspect but out of my longing to become subsumed again under the summoning aegis of its inclined top cover.
As I open one of my desktop files, it feels like both life and breath have been restored to normal. Anxious to get back to one of my numerous student assignments, I settle down on my dated office chair only to rise from it in a matter of seconds because of a scratching sound coming from an unidentified corner of the basement. I have often thought of intruding basement bats, but I happen to know for a fact that this basement is bat-proof because of its initial solid construction. Instinctively, my gaze is directed towards the small window which is on the same level with the street pavement. Cats visit it all the time to relieve themselves despite the most imaginative of measures taken against them, so it comes as no surprise to me when I hear an accompanying meow cutting through the silence of the night. What does startle me though is the peculiar sight of a baby hedgehog rubbing its spines against the windowpane as if striving for home access. Before I even have a chance to invite it in, the stray hoglet steps down the window ledge and disappears into the unwonted quietness of the street.
Drowsiness leads me back to my seat in front of the computer screen. Still reluctant to disconnect, I sit up straight to resume my academic strain, but I have trouble keeping my head up. As I find myself relapsing into yet another reverie, hazy images of forlorn hedgehogs and bats with spine prick marks become tangled up. My inconvenient seat posture brings me back to the reality of all the assignment deadlines that I have to meet. ‘What if the baby hedgehog was looking for its mother? How on earth will they find their way back to each other?’ The rhetorical forbiddance of my mind’s wanderings redirects me to the reformulation of my research questions:
- When will the coronavirus pandemic finally allow us to unhouse ourselves?
- Will things be exactly as they were in the pre-coronavirus phase?
- Will people find their way back to their unmasked faces?
Hopefully, I have the entire semester to report and discuss my findings. It is time to go back to sleep now.
2020. I beheld my world
squeeze down to thirty meters, more or less.
A vacuum of angst. A freezer, void,
it seemed, of any breathing, any 'next.'
But as I sat there, nursing my complaints,
I saw whole lives squeezed down to just a bed,
with tubes pushed through the throat, along the veins.
The lungs, flip-flapping useless rags – in red.
Apart from being filled with all that pain,
I'm thankful: I can breathe. I don't complain.
Between four white walls I pound several thousands of steps pacing back and forth in not so much self-isolation as solitary confinement. Between four white walls, generously provided by the Swedish state, I type tirades in total silence while one long scream waits behind my lips.
2:48 in the morning I scrape bathroom pipes, smooth and shiny and wait for an acceptable hour to email my professor who doesn’t respond to email; too old-fashioned, no longer en vogue.
3:34am, I snap. Email. Call mom.
9:20am, a response. My professor is gone, no longer in charge of me, no longer interested.
9:21am, lie down.
The next day, March 18th, we are officially online, we are closed, we are vulnerable, we are lost, and unprepared and consistently under-informed.
Between for white walls, I read as Sweden writes mountains into molehills, facts into fiction. There is no virus, nothing to worry about, it’s just something old people get, and who cares about them anyway?
Mid-March, the sun shines.
12:34 in the afternoon, I have sewn myself a mask because my uncle is dead, my aunt and cousin are sick. I can’t visit. Can’t help.
12:40 I walk to the store. People jeer, spit, point and laugh, walk in my path, longing perhaps to claw at my face. Is it the pattern of little teacups on linen that upsets them so? Or is it shameless, un-Scandinavian desire to preserve my life that so offends the locals?
Late March, March 30th to exact, my sibling’s, nay, best friend’s 30th birthday. We had such plans this year. Hair dye, tattoos, the succour of bad decisions, waiting for us.
Instead, we facetime, thank God for facetime, my mother always says, as gifts are opened, and silence is shared.
Between four white walls, April sneaks up on me through my bathroom, my back, my kidney, and finally through calling home.
April fools, mom! I’m sick.
April consists of lying down, throwing up, both literary and organic contents, and trying in vain to keep down the most important parts.
April 20th, first drafts, final straws, all due on the same day, consisting of little substance but so, so, much time.
At least the antibiotics are working.
Six days later, draft two, unacknowledged, but submitted on time.
April 30th, I am in shock but not yet septic. I am on antibiotics, learning to write by hand while lying down because I’ll be damned if this pandemic, and crippling loneliness takes my thesis from me.
I weigh 90lbs.
Between four white walls I have called home a hundred times to find myself suddenly call this, home. Stockholm Syndrome at its finest.
May ended early.
May ended on the 27th, in a flurry of final drafts, PDFs, sleeping pills, and spellcheck.
On May 31st I am released on probation, “Danmark tillåter svenska transitresor”.
Between four white walls I have lived, almost died, survived, overcome, submitted, graduated, healed and yes, studied.
Between four white walls, because I was planted, rooted to this unchosen spot, I have grown.
My morning routine is sitting on the edge of my bed, like that fox
having an existential crisis, questioning the fact I have to be me
all over again today until it all becomes so ridiculous
I have to stand up.
I do yoga next to a candle, wondering if it counts if no one’s around to see it.
We’re being confronted with human mortality
every day and I really don’t think we’re cut out for it.
I’m staring into the microwave again.
My books are all overdue, but the prime minister told me
not to go to the library. I paint cherry blossoms on my furniture
because I lost my job and the WHO declared influencers an essential service.
The sun sets at three.
I write a list of all the books I’ll read one day and then
it’s twenty past midnight. It’s time to make dinner.
It’s a quarter to three, I’m eating bibimbap.
That’s ok. There’s nowhere to be but online.
I don’t remember if I used to have a sense of purpose but if I did, I miss it.
In January I’m gonna go ahead and turn 25 again.
Sitting here at the keyboard staring at a screen
Day after day trying my best to focus
Always caught in a web page of news articles and videos
Trying desperately to escape to fly back to my virtual textbook
It used to be a lot easier
In the distant past of last March
Able to go to the promised land of lectures and libraries
Now we reside in the depths of our homes
Creating self-imposed time crunches
Caused by procrastination and distractions
Caused by the very thing we need to do the work
Like a poison that is also the antivenom
Yet we get by
We keep moving
Tell the day we can unpause where we left off
What virus will stop at you?
The have and want.
You’re a household,
a single being.
A household of people,
a bubble of parent and child.
You are children.
This someone, another someone.
The single form,
a flock of anyone.
You’re a household with symptoms,
Adam sat in his room, half awake, silent, and with a blank look on his face. It was supposed to be morning, but without the light of his lamp there was nothing to be seen. He hated these early lectures. “What’s the point? Why is the rush?” he thought to himself, “It’s not like we need to hurry to be somewhere or get back home. We ARE home!”. Adam exhaled in frustration and went to his desk. The lecture was about to start, so he opened his laptop and his Zoom account to enter. The first few minutes of online lectures were always the same; utter silence and black screens. This turned the beginning of every lecture into “a moment of silence” for the fallen comrades who couldn’t continue with these courses.
Cutting the student’s silent contemplation, the professor opened his mic and started his public reading of the endless saga of global economics, and most students immediately started to yawn. Some tried to masquerade what was going on with some moves, while others’ yawns were shouts of boredom into the camera.
One of the very few things that Adam enjoyed about those lectures was the opportunity to shuffle through the camera feeds and look into the faces of his classmates, into their reactions, and into their behavior when they thought no one was looking at them. “Creepy? Sure. Interesting though? Absolutely!” Adam thought silently while looking at one of his classmates gently stroking the head of their dog that sat silently next to its owner.
After his usual trip down the camera feeds, Adam took a couple of minutes to do his part in the online course dance where he showed that he is engaged and following the lecture. Then he turned on his mobile phone and opened the online game that he had been dabbling with recently. He placed the phone on the screen in front of him, so no one could see it through the camera, and to the rest of the class it looked like he was looking at his screen and was following the lecture. It took him a while and some practice, but eventually he managed to get himself used to nodding his head unconsciously while playing the game. Therefore, if anyone looked at his camera, they would see a present Adam, looking at the screen and nodding in agreement with the professor.
After the lecture had ended, Adam stretched his legs a little bit and arched backwards. He remembered that a paper was due in two days. It was supposed to be a duo, but the other guy just disappeared. “A college student abandons his studies to live among otters” a news title flashed in Adam’s mind. He laughed at the idea that his paper buddy would have preferred holding hands with otters while floating on a river to writing a paper with him. “Wait a minute, I don’t think that was a random thought … to be honest I would really rather go live with otters than do this long distance anymore” Adam thought while his loud laughter filled the room. “Otters, why not! Much cuter than that economics professor for sure”.
Images documenting student life during Corona times
These photographs are all from an assignment given to students in the The Photographic Image course. In that photo assignment, students were asked to document what it means to be a student at Malmö University during corona times.
See more images from the Studying During Corona-project
Photo by Agnes Nebrelius