INTRODUCTION by CAITLIN WHITELEY
In the space of what seems like less time than the spring flowers have taken to rouse themselves sleepily from their earthy beds, less time than students generally have to panic write an essay, less time than the sleepy muzz of the Christmas holidays has had to dissipate, we as a species seem to have flung ourselves into a time spiral. I woke up one morning no longer in 2020, but rather in the sun-drenched, fly-speckled, wooden-beaked streets of the plagued 1600s.
Though perhaps a bit of an overdramatic statement, the world as we knew it seems to have ground to a halt around us. Flights, the mode of transportation that has so dominated our lives since the 1980s, are grounded, airports crushed overnight into half-empty toyboxes, silvery planes left skewed and unused by the toddler hands of humanity. Commerce has shut its steely-eyed glass buildings as thousands-hundreds of thousands-have retreated into their rabbit warrens to press keyboard buttons in their daytime pyjamas from the safety of their blankets. People speed silently through the supermarket, eyes down, mouths closed, the only noise the hum of the freezers and the squeak of too-fast trolleys on linoleum. Healthcare professionals tread lonely paths along empty city streets, pressing their hands against a tide of indomitable illness, stemming the flow of disease with ventilators, plastic-gloved fingers, mask-swathed mouths and bravery that we usually see on battlefronts. The era of the corporate jet setter, the god of travel, has crumbled. Gone is the gluttonous deity of partying and wine. The sparkly-eyed temptress of tinder? Dead and buried. The dawn of new gods is upon us. Netflix Party has raised itself red and shiny as sacrificial goat’s blood in the limited slice of sun you get through your half-drawn bedroom window. Nintendo Switch, and its leaf-covered priest, Animal Crossing, are holding a fish-catching, mortgage-paying, DIY-crafting communion in living rooms across every evening speckled country. Zoom and Microsoft Teams scream and claw at each other in their battle at the edge of the world, Zeus and Cronos, armed with the sharp-pointed static of your tutor sitting too close to the microphone and the poisonous fog of bad Wi-Fi.
The thing about isolation is that it leaves one feeling isolated. No amount of video calls has the same easy grace as a coffee-shop chat, the same friendly bump of anklebones on a too-packed sofa, the same joy as stepping into a warm house and a warm hug from a long, cold walk outdoors. The troubles of this isolation, and its so-called ‘minuteness’ compared to the tribulations and trials faced by our doctors, our nurses, our minimum wage workers and our sufferers have been discussed. Feeling afraid, sorry, upset and scared is shouted down amongst a chorus of it could be worse.
Amongst the myriad pastel-pink Instagram screenshots encouraging ‘global togetherness’ and ‘healing’, this virus has been swathed in a lot of guilt. Guilt (rightfully) in continuing to go out, putting others at risk. Guilt at meat-eaters for supposedly causing this (vegan Instagram, I support you, I love your recipes but perhaps now is not the time). Guilt for going a bit cabin-fever, for finding this entire freeze of everything we have come to expect as normal more than a little discomfiting. I recently asked someone I am currently self-isolating with (my dad, the ‘someone’ made it seem much more mysterious than it actually is) how he was coping and in return, I got a ‘Your generation overthinks things. You’re too concerned about how you’re feeling. Just get on with it.’
Just get on with it.
The worry of climate change, property crashes, corporate instability, the deep and violent inequalities that make up capitalism’s bread and butter. All of that wasn’t enough. Now, a global pandemic that many countries, (cough UK cough, cough US cough) are fundamentally unorganised to cope with, a pandemic that puts thousands at risk, that has prevented and disrupted degrees and exams (the one measure of our worth), has left us indoors and alone. The kids are worried. But we should just get on with it.
This is not to say that the world isn’t going to emerge, strong as it always does, from this. I hope that I possess enough optimism that I believe that human beings will stick together (please, I’m on day 7 of quarantine, I don’t care how ridiculous it sounds I’m just trying to maintain faith here, and I’ve watched a lot of happy films on Netflix, so me and serotonin? Best friends.) and that thanks to the bravery and strength of those risking their lives on the front lines in all senses we will eventually be okay. But the whole idea of suppressing how you feel-of crushing down your emotions because it could be worse-isn’t helping anyone. If we are to just get on with it, we have to address and mediate these feelings, rather than ridicule or suppress them. I am currently in recovery from an eating disorder that has plagued (ha-ha, pertinent) the majority of my late teens, and sporadically flares up (another illness pun, wow, I’m on fire) in times of particular stress or uncertainty. A global pandemic, you say? Old Anorexia is rubbing her hands with joy, Bulimia is dusting off her best dress. Mass amounts of uncontrollable news, panic, limited movement, stockpiled food and memes every which way reminding me just how much weight I will gain over the impending weeks. Wonderful. It’s a disorder’s dream.
Just get on with it? Yeah. I will. I do. As does everyone my age I know. We get on with it, we laugh, we pull together, we make some inappropriate jokes and we’re okay. Does it mean that I won’t need constant reminders as to why I’m trying to get better? That I won’t need support, video or otherwise? That I won’t sometimes just let myself cry, a good old throat-clenching, banshee-painful cry? Of course not. We’ll get on with it, but not by suppressing every emotion. We’ll get on with it by feeling them, and using those feelings to connect with every other being who is also feeling tumultuous, confused, happy, sad, wherever they are currently in the whole spectrum of emotions. Because though we are in isolation, and though words on a screen or a face made of pixels or a voice through speakers doesn’t have quite the same connection as a warm hand on your elbow, your friend’s excited laugh when she sees you pushing open the door of the too-expensive Pret in your small, everybody-knows-everybody, tactile town, that emotional sharing? That connection? That message of (please forgive me I’ve given into our capitalist overlord Walt Disney but also did you know Disney+ has the Lizzie McGuire movie on it?) you aren’t alone? That helps. It’s cheesy and ridiculous, but it does. So here at BRIZO we do what we can, and what we can do is write, and what we can do is draw, and make art and humour and tragedy and articles that hopefully make you feel a little heard, a little less alone, a little less isolated in isolation. To wrap up this (way too long, sorry) introduction, the pieces that follow by wonderful creators Indigo Fulham-Fitzgerald, Jade Fagersten, Lucy Robb, Kate Grant, Jennifer Jane Van Der Merwe, Louise Evans, Desiree Finlayson and Olivia Cuevas Geiger, made me laugh, made me think, made me feel for a moment as if I was sitting in a room with someone other than my family. They offer connection. Hope. Talent. They made it a little easier to just get on with it;
knowing there were others out there just getting on with it too. I hope they do the same for you.
INDIGO FULHAM FITZGERALD
I think it’s safe to say that this period in all of our lives has been thoroughly exhausting. Between the general atmosphere in the world and my morbid (and very likely unhealthy) addiction to the Guardian’s live updates on the Coronavirus, it is impossible to separate myself from the constant anxiety and uncertainty engulfing the globe. This was the case before the UK was even put on official lockdown, and as a result of Boris’s speech yesterday, it’s now impossible to be any more aware of what seems to be the virtual meltdown of society as we know it.
One of the worst things (among a multitude of others) about this pandemic is by far the uncertainty. Adding to the stress early on, (slightly before closed borders were becoming the norm) like many other international students I had to make the very quick and emotional decision on whether or not to travel back home. My family is currently based in Ohio and as soon as Trump announced his initial travel bans on Europe, (then not including the UK) my sister who studies in Edinburgh immediately booked a flight home for the next day. I suppose my family logically knew in the back of our minds that this would be a possibility with the virus steadily increasing, but suspecting is entirely different to abruptly being confronted with the fact that the UK would likely be next. Almost exactly after booking my sister’s flight, my parents called me. What ensued was perhaps one of the most emotionally charged phone calls I’ve had with my parents in a long, long time. As my father desperately hovered over one of the tickets to the US, which were selling by the second, we desperately tried to weigh what the better option was. Ultimately we decided that I would stay in Scotland, as I live in private accommodation, and presume that I would be able to travel back home once my lease ends. However, I’ve made plans for what happens if that remains impossible, as we’ve become all too aware that the situation remains entirely unpredictable.
Even attempting to escape through my academic work (if you can even honestly call it that) to deal with my mountain of upcoming essays is made slightly more difficult since I’ve chosen this semester to take the uplifting modules titled ‘Death and the Afterlife in Medieval Europe’ and ‘Disease and Environment.’ Nothing beats reading about plague pandemics and syphilis to keep the mood high! As I (pathetically) joked to my classmates, I knew I had to dive into my subjects to do well but I never thought my latter module would be this immersive.
Nonetheless, as each day feels both simultaneously like a year and a blip, I’m finding myself desperately attempting to create a routine (to varying degrees of success), picking up new skills (who knew that I could give a decent barber style cut in my own living room?), and forcing myself to find the motivation to do my pile of uni work. In times were it seems that things are only getting worse and we’re nowhere near the final stretch, I hope that you’re safe and have a network of people for support to help get us through these terrifying, historic times.
“I am lucky”.
That’s the sentence I keep repeating to myself. It’s what I say as I scrub my teeth in the bathroom mirror. As I brush my hair and lace up my shoes. As I wash my face and paint chapstick on my lips.
As I fall to my bed, exhausted from the extraneous effort that is menial acts of self-care. As I double tap Instagram memes. As I try to facetime friends.
“I am lucky. It could be so much worse.”
I have to say, it doesn’t feel much like luck. In many ways it’s hellish. Thick and porous anxiety sits on my tongue most days and there are too many mirrors around me and too much uncertainty. I am facing the place my father passed away a mere three months ago on a daily basis, I am overwhelmed with the notion that there is nothing I can do to help people, I am confronting the fact that my mother is bravely fielding calls and emails every minute to keep her business functional and to keep money moving and I can’t be away from my friends for this long without allowing some creeping intrusive thought to slither in: they all hate you. has anyone ever actually liked you?
But truth be told? I am lucky.
And while that fact is one that invites its own grief (how is everyone else? how can I help? I can’t help. how is it fair that I have some good aspects and others don’t have the same?) it is also one that I grab a hold of and squeeze and rub through my hair until it permeates my skull. Because it is the sole thought that allows me to think critically, and the sole thought that has me consider what it is I can do. It is what inspires any amount of action (even if tiny), as opposed to still and silent spiraling.
And while it irritates me that this blurb doesn’t have much of a moral, or an argument, or anything specifically important to say, I suppose what I take away from it all is that:
Right now, perhaps more than ever, is the time to find the thoughts (songs, films, articles, friends, quotes, books, poems, foods, exercise routines, hobbies, passions, pastimes, moods) you need and to hold them and use them. Do they fix anything? No. But they may perhaps fuel something inside of you that is asking to stay alight.
Stuck in Suburbia
Well, damn. This is actually happening. Everyday existence has turned into some surreal dystopian reality where life has been put on hold and we tune into daily dispatches which announce increasing levels of the severity of crisis, the rising deaths, the decreasing amount of available hospital beds and equipment, and a gradual enforcement of social distancing and isolation is beginning to emerge.
I have to admit, I was in denial until quite recently. For starters, I packed lightly to travel home, which for those who know me is quite an impressive achievement, I do have a bizarre tendency to pack as though I’m assuming I need to be prepared for any eventuality and as though I am going to be in some desert or remote island where I will not be able to find things. For once, that could have actually been useful, but no I chose the worse time possible to try to mend my packing ways and the result is that I have about three T-shirts, a pair of jeans, some underwear, rather a lot of sketching supplies and a pair of stan smiths. Minimal study essentials you will note, but I guess at least I can take up my New Year’s resolution of doing a drawing a day again.
In my defence, the situation appears to have escalated quite rapidly, a few weeks ago coronavirus was one of those things that happened elsewhere. And admittedly no-one wanted this to happen, no-one would predict the suspension of normality if instead they could happily stick their head into the sand of wishful ignorance and just assume that of course everything was going to be fine and that they would be back at uni in just under two weeks. Admittedly there were a lot of hand sanitiser stations in Edinburgh airport on the way home, the majority positioned just after security, lining the walls like a series of positioned art exhibit. But I was still able to pretty much ignore the signs of impending panic, though on the bus home from the airport, the majority of passengers on their phones were talking about coronavirus, some fearing what that meant for their jobs, and others concerned about vulnerable relatives, like one young teenage girl whose mother’s immune system is on the floor due to MS and was banned from attending hospital for continuing treatment due to the risk of contracting the virus. This was on March 12th.
Richmond at first, seemed the same as always. Families with buggies everywhere in sight, people dipping in and out of shops on the high street, the smell of coffee with oat-milk and freshly baked sourdough and croissants wafting from the many bakeries that sprung up over 2019. People were still going to yoga classes, eating ice-cream on the green and congregating for mass family bike rides in Richmond park. People did not seem to be panicking. That was of course, until I went into Waitrose. In there, all hell had broken loose. Apparently 8 extra staff were taken on that day (probably around the 18th) to re-stock shelves as fast as people were taking things down, urgently stocking up on what they considered as essentials – this seemed to include, judging by the empty spaces – all and any fresh herbs, equally chili peppers, rice, pizza, granola, almond milk, tofu, falafels, oranges, chickpeas, lentils, yoghurt , eggs and of course milk, tinned tomatoes, dried pasta and loo roll. Tesco and Sainsburys were not dissimilar, bizarrely the situation was somewhat better in M&S. Over the past week, I have seen a ridiculous number of people walking around town with mountains of loo roll under their arms. The closure of cafes, restaurants and pubs over the weekend appeared to have quietened down the town somewhat. Though some places such as Joe and The Juice and Wholefoods appear to have acquired bouncers especially to enforce the 2metre distance rule, and a few places were trying to sell coffee etc from their door. However, the entire town seems to have decided to practice social distancing in Richmond Park, the weather has been lovely, you don’t have to be in an office, so why wouldn’t you and a cluster of other families decide to take your seven children (each) out to the park with a picnic? With the dog of course. That and all the elderly people seem to be heading out on walks with trekking poles.
Meanwhile, back home, it is beginning to feel a bit like ground-hog day. Every morning I get up, make breakfast, feed the dog, meditate or do some yoga, take the dog out and drop off supplies to my friend who actually has coronavirus, organise some sort of lunch, attempt to do something productive – work or decluttering in the afternoon, dinner, read, bed. My youngest sister is now home from school and is occupying the dining room for school, jumping around a lot, and occasionally accuses me of stealing her hair ties – my hair is actually now too short for such things having been lopped off by my hairdresser last week, clearly in the expectation that it could be a while before I next see her. My other sister, home from Oxford, spends her timing singing Les Mis songs at the top of her voice and announcing about three times a day that she thinks she may have coronavirus, along with diabetes, a brain tumour and possible heart palpitations – she watches a lot of Greys Anatomy.
I am aware that while it is unfortunate that I can only catch up with friends from a distance, and that our experience of university has been so disrupted from what we originally imagined and planned. It is no great tragedy to be unable to visit art exhibitions and mainly stay inside a house in which we all have separate bedrooms, a garden and that we have no one in the family majorly at risk of dying from Coronavirus. (touch wood). The conditions I described earlier are laughable and wholly separate to the situation in Italy at the moment for example, and to what the NHS staff are having to endure. Furthermore, the first case in Syria was confirmed today. A country already in immense turmoil and where this disease could spread like wildfire wrecking further devastation in its wake.
Coronavirus, like any disaster, puts things into perspective. It has made us realise what we take for granted – public transport, being able to nip into the shops to buy pasta and a pint of milk, schools for our children and job security – this is for the majority. It has made us recognise our privilege and as a country the conclusion has been reached that lives matter more than money and future economic difficulty. And on a brighter note, the waters of Venice have cleared and pollution levels have sunk, although we are in a time of immense stress, at least it appears to have given the planet some space to breathe. In conclusion, although Covid-19 feels like a dystopian nightmare, at least it is making us think.
Jennifer-Jane Van Der Merwe
My mum was supposed to come here to visit over Spring Break but obviously that hasn’t been possible because of the need to keep ourselves and others safe, as well as complications with travel bans. Staying where we respectively are has been the plan. With social distancing so far I’ve been taking it as some time to relax (as much as I can) for a little bit before uni work becomes a priority again. I’ve been watching Netflix, cooking food, listening to music, and scrolling through social media but I plan on doing a lot of art this coming week. Mostly a bit of watercolour, Lino printing, and drawing. I’m looking for new ways of art-making that I haven’t tried as well. To keep connected to my family I’ve been chatting to them every day on FaceTime. It’s been good to have that and to feel supported, which is important to me because I am very much alone on the other side of the world. One thing I’ve been making sure to do is getting out of the house every day just to go for a walk in nature, in spaces where there aren’t a lot of people. I think both the little bit of exercise and getting out, especially in nature, has been so good for me. It’s something to look forward to every day and in its own way is very meditative. I’m thinking of making myself a vague schedule for when to do cleaning, going for a walk, yoga, art, uni work etc. to make sure I do all of these things and to give my life a bit of structure in this very unstructured time. I think it’s definitely a difficult time for everyone and it’s going to be so challenging in various ways, so I’m just taking it day by day, checking up on friends regularly, and offering everyone as much support as I can.
Day One of lockdown slipped by unnoticed,
squeezed its little body between the fence and shot off;
horrible hangover now equates to ignorant bliss.
Day Two I began, like a little terrier
to stand on the back of the sofa
and peer, ears up and tail between my legs
at those daring to roam outside.
Day 3 I rolled over; engorged
on the positive publications, seeing the hoards
of social media posts pouring in
on how this new-found time can
be spent wisely
and I do sound miserly
To want to drag those yoghurty yogis down to my level…
as I’m sitting, cross-legged in my ‘office-space’ hovel,
eating garlic bread for brunch, so impatient
that the butter hasn’t quite melted
and it’s like we’re being pelted
with colliding opinions and advice,
just a ‘stay indoors pls’ would surely suffice.
It’s Day Four and I care about nothing more
than shielding my eyes from your perfectly mown
gardens, spotless houses, obedient pups—
It’s great to learn a language and clean the
minging fridge, but the severity of this
you’re not getting, not even a smidge.
Day 6 and I’ve inhaled a whole carrot cake,
and for a brief moment felt sad, then
threw myself into…. A living room workout
(trying not to vomit deters from feeling bad).
Day Nine (?) and things start to seem that bit brighter,
A bit of fruit,
a good ol’ list,
and finally washed hair,
now I’m following the gumption of these ‘go-get-‘em’ types
that I used to scoff at through jealously judgemental eyes
and the end of the tunnel might just be in sight
basking now in the April sunlight,
It’s going to be alright,
Throughout my life I have extensively engaged with literature dissecting the events and consequences of severe times of hardship. In particular as a result of my education in the German section of a European School, most of the literature that we read could be traced back to the generational trauma caused by the first and second world wars. Whilst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented chaos filled with loss, illness, uncertainty and fear, it cannot realistically be compared to either of the world wars. But just because it is not comparable to some of history’s most violent wars, does not mean that our incredibly complicated feelings in regard to the pandemic aren’t valid. On the contrary, the events ensuing the spread of the pandemic have forced many of us to take drastic measures for our safety and the safety of others that we thought we would never experience in our lifetimes. From one day to the next many of us were required to completely abandon our ideas of normal reality for life within the constraints of public health measures. The sudden dramatic rift in the lives of people all over the world is still very much foreign to many of us. Indeed, I personally have noted that I am still in denial about the 1000 ways in which my life has come to a screeching halt. Life in quarantine feels like limbo– like one of those Hollywood thrillers in which the protagonist is doomed to relive the same day should they not find a way to end the loop. But with every day, the denial wears off a bit more and reality starts setting in. However, it seems that moving from denial to reality is just a beast with a different name, since now that reality is setting in, I find myself desperately trying to find a way in which to lessen my cognitive dissonance towards our new reality. Firstly, is this really our new reality? I try telling myself that this is only temporary and that soon I’ll be able to sit in Aikman’s laughing about this, but I stop myself from thinking about this critically. The more I think about it, the more idealistic my dream of sitting in Aikman’s seems. In my opinion, this one of those unique moments in history where really no one knows how things are going to be in six months. This is not to say that governmental agencies know what they are doing most of the time anyway, but especially right now, when many of us look to the government for stability and some sense of direction, it becomes clear that in this moment no one knows anything and we are all just winging it. But weirdly and unexpectedly, the thought of winging it brings me a sense of calm. If no one, not even the highest offices in the world, knows what they are doing, then it can’t be that bad that I am not sure what I am doing right now, right? Now I don’t know if this is productive or not, but I also believe that being productive isn’t necessarily the highest priority at the moment. Either way, the fact that everyone is very disoriented at the moment has helped me take some of the pressure off myself and I can only recommend spending some time thinking about this. There is nothing that can actively be done or planned right now, which leads me to think that planning for anything past what I am doing this week to maintain a routine, is simply me desperately trying to normalize a situation that is anything but normal. The first step to learning how to live through these times is accepting that things are the way they are and that we all have to put a temporary hold to our plans. What makes this okay for me is that quite literally the entire world has stopped, so why can’t I allow myself to step on the break a little and allow myself to breathe for a while? Of course, I am not trying to discourage anyone from thinking about their future because for some people it is can help to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But since thinking about the future was bringing me such discomfort, especially because I am working under assumptions that could be shattered tomorrow morning for all I know, I have decided that I will follow the rhythm that the world dictates. Thus, in my opinion, the best thing to do right now is to accept that this is the way things are. This is not only a unique time because it is so scary and uncertain, but because for the first time in a long time, I have time to sit down and think about what it is that I really want to do with my time when this is over. If anything, this situation has reminded me of the value of the privileges we enjoy. For now, I will invest my energy in the privileges I can enjoy right now, like reading just for the sake of reading or using the time formally reserved for pints with the boys to revive my hobbies that were left full of dust by a fast-pacing world. Our world is for the first time in a long time going back to a slower pace and I think this is a sign to do the same with our minds. Allow your mind to rest and to take it slower – for the first time in a long time we do not need to run on the hamster wheel of rampant capitalism. What I will try to do, whilst trying not to agonize about the logistical details of my future, is to deeply think about what truly makes me happy and when this crisis has passed, I will not waste one more day compromising my happiness for capitalistic expectations for a successful life. Life can change SO quickly and if anything, this is a reminder that this is your life and that you do not need to live it for anyone else but yourself. Stay safe and stay sane!