There is Life Here Too

Rosemary Snell
June 15, 2020
Rosemary Snell

One day, the chorus of cars washed away from our streets and didn’t come back. The inhale and exhale of morning and evening rush hours faded; the city held its breath and so did we. We watched the world shut down one broadcast at a time. I felt the quickness and rush of held breath as a sense of uncertain stillness sunk into my bones.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

- Arundhati Roy (“The Pandemic is a Portal”, 2020)

Arundhati Roy speaks of the pandemic as a time where the present tense is withheld from us and the world is frozen by this virus. The present is a space lined with “echoes of the past” and “premonitions of the future” (23 April, 2020). Where do we find space for ourselves in the present when it simultaneously ceases to exist and rolls on forever? How do we find space to breathe when we don’t know what moving forward looks like within this new reality? This stagnancy of time has touched a deep restlessness in me - perhaps you’ve found the same.

Solitary, collective, crumbling and expansive; there is life in stagnancy.

Rosemary Snell

For many of us, our homes became our world. Caught between the silence that claimed our streets and the sounds of grave news riding on radio waves - only the walls were witness to the stirring of our minds and bodies amongst these global changes. In so many ways, this stagnancy that the pandemic brings, that Roy beautifully speaks to in her essay, brushes against the grain of our habits and instincts as beings. 

With only mirrors and screens to keep us company, home is now a place where we are steeped in ourselves, and breathing is  an essential form of keeping time and presence. In the confines of this pandemic and the confines of my room, I have been reminded that there is a great deal of life found in stagnant places.

Solitary, collective, crumbling and expansive; there is life in stagnancy.

At the beginning of this lockdown, I returned to a recording I’ve reflected on for years titled I am Sitting in a Room by composer Alvin Lucier (1969). He records his voice as he sits in a room and talks about how the sound and space interact. This recorded script is played back again and again - each repetition a recording of the last. As Lucier notes, “the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves”. 

In revisiting Lucier’s work in March, this piece spoke to a feeling of swimming in my own brain waves and feeling disconnected from time. Now, this piece reinforces the collective space that is held between oneself and the world that surrounds us.

As Octavia Butler famously writes in Parable of the Sower (1993):

All that you touch / You Change. All that you Change / Changes you.

Though it was written into science-fiction (or perhaps especially so) Butler’s line rings true even when all we can touch is limited to what we keep in our six-foot radius. Alvin Lucier created the sound of his voice in a room. In this case, the room was changed by his voice and in turn, his voice was changed by the room. Even in isolation, we and the world around us work together to make change. Whether the space you inhabit is holding pain, healing, learning, unlearning, movement, stillness... our existence in the present creates change. 

Rosemary Snell

We can no longer access the way things were before the pandemic, nor can we predict what will likely happen tomorrow or the day after that. While this signals uncertainty, it also speaks to a limitlessness. The present is a portal, we can remember that there is, has been, and always will be life in seemingly stagnant places. This life, resilient and dynamic, is the beginning of building better futures.

As we have seen on the streets in recent weeks, we are making the world anew, and we’re only just beginning.


A list of future-builders, dust shakers and change-makers that inspire me every day:

Last Stream: A Glittering Gem Is Not Enough with Kendra Yee
Last Stream: A Glittering Gem Is Not Enough with Kendra Yee