Loss and confinement

How creativity has helped me to deal with my grief and the draconian lockdown in Paris

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Rue Sainte-Marthe
Rue Sainte-Marthe

Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise”. Victor Hugo

Today is my 50th day under the strict lockdown in Paris. I came here at the beginning of January, because my work visa expired and I had to leave the US, otherwise I would have violated immigration rules. A week before I left Los Angeles, I had applied for a green card. I was hopeful that I would get it because I thought after a total of 25 years in California and all the things I had done, the US would be happy to have me, but unfortunately, my application was denied in February. Hence, I came from one stressful situation right into the next one. I hadn’t even digested yet, what the immigration officer told me when the next bad news hit me that all museums and galleries were closed and that the tours, I was supposed to give in Paris, were canceled due to the COVID-19 lockdown. I’m an art journalist, which doesn’t pay much, and becoming a tour-guide was supposed to be my bread and butter in Paris. I had trained for this job for several weeks. So, I lost money due to the failed green-card application and I didn’t end up earning the money, I thought I’d be making in Paris.

View from my home

To me, the idea of being restricted or not being able to participate in normal social life, however, is familiar and not the most stressful part about the Covid-19 crisis. In fact, I feel right at home, being in a situation in which most conversations are about illness and in which one’s own emotional needs couldn’t be met for the sake of the safety of another human being. I grew up with a severely ill brother, who hardly left home and could not indulge in all the worldly pleasures, which come through romance, school, work, social gatherings at work, overseas traveling – you get the idea – and then there was my mother, who hardly participated in social life because she took care of him for 24 hours for almost 33 years. Also, I grew up with the fear of death, knowing that my brother would die earlier than the average person and that a mere cold or other infection could bring this on. He died of inflammation in his lungs, pneumonia.

Man clapping for the healthcare workers

So, I’m doing okay living with Covid-19 and the lockdown, because I witnessed how my brother was able to live with so little and he kept on smiling. It was a genuine smile. Due to him I know I can endure this until May 11th, and even longer if I had to. But to be honest, the memory of the time he was alive, the financial worries, and sudden constant dealing with the police sometimes keep me up at night and there are things I do miss. One of them is the possibility to exercise during the day and to be able to walk around freely without having to carry an Attestation de déplacement dérogatoire along, a form, in which one needs to state one’s address and time of departure of one’s home. The good thing is on May 11th the strict lockdown in Paris comes to an end. Museums, galleries, and sightseeing places will remain closed though. This keeps putting my work as an art journalist and tour-guide on ice.  

View from my window in the morning
Morning sunlight

Since we are only allowed to go outside for one hour per day and have to stay within a 1-kilometer (0.6 miles) radius from our home right now, I started working on a memoir. I also began shooting the view from my apartment during different times of the day and various weather conditions, plus everything I noticed from within and in my home from the first day of the lockdown, including the chair I’ve been sitting on for about 16 – 17 hours. Being creative and traveling back in time, where I was in a different part of the world and in a more peaceful phase in my life – such as in China, where I lived for a year and spent an afternoon with a monk – helped me tremendously dealing with the combination of these stresses. When I no longer can concentrate on my writing, I take my camera and then I try to get the right shot at the right angle and at the right time of the day. I’m completely focused then, which distracts me in a positive way. Photography feels a bit more relaxing and meditative to me than writing. I think that is for writing has already become my profession and I’m the world’s harshest Self-critic and don’t take rejections lightly.

Sunlight hitting my chair in Paris
Natural light on my laundry in Paris
Sunlight hitting my wall in Paris
Curtain in Forbidden City in Beijing
Chair in Forbidden City in Beijing
Summer Palace in Beijing
Monk in Xiamen, China
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