Scenes From a Pandemic: 17

27 07 2020

by Maria Espinoza

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

(photo: Maria Espinoza)

Something’s Happening Here

Cuernavaca, Morelos

They say that a person can get used to anything, except not eating. I guess that’s true. After five months of exercising extreme caution as a doctor, it all seems comfortable and easy now compared with those distant days of late February, when the pandemic had just begun to dawn on us all.

Back then, I was getting ready to go to the Mexico City airport to travel to the annual meeting of a group of sexual and reproductive health specialists when a rumor was spreading online that the first case of Covid-19 had been documented in Mexico. It swiftly became clear that the rumor was fact. A colleague, who coordinates training for our loose and vulnerable national network of abortion providers, reported that her husband, an internist at one of Mexico’s most exclusive private hospitals, was treating that first Covid case.

Some of us had surgical masks with us. In the airport, virtually no one used them. Nor do most people use them today, even as the curve of contagion and death bends continually upward.

Our group was divided at first on the seriousness of the threat. In the leftist circles within which I move, most people believed it was a false flag to control Mexico’s poorest and most vulnerable classes. Soon, though, I would see patients in my own clinic in Morelos with respiratory symptoms who would die before they were tested. In New York City, people I know and love would be hospitalized. It was clear that a national emergency was on the horizon, and that, like health workers throughout the world, I would be on the front lines.

With little and conflicting information on how to operate during a fast-arriving crisis, we were all confused. Some colleagues told us to dress like astronauts, basically to armor up, when seeing patients. This would prove difficult when even N95 face masks were sold out or resold online for ridiculous prices. I made do with face masks from the local hardware store, the kind that house painters use.

I was afraid to see my patients, and yet I felt more committed than ever, given the other never-ending health emergency for women who wish to end their pregnancies in a state where it is prohibited. As Covid took hold, my patients also were afraid. When they came to appointments, they brought what protective gear they could, simple face masks or cloth bandanas. We spaced out appointments. My assistants and I used what safeguards we had at our disposal: boots, a double layer of gloves, hairnets, and surgical gowns, along with face shields we purchased from the same guy who sells pirated DVDs in the pueblo.


I used face masks from the local hardware store. My face shield came from the same guy who sells pirated DVDs. I struggled to see what I was doing as my breath fogged up the plastic shield. Anxiety took hold as the risk of making a mistake increased. And yet, everything turned out fine, every time. I kept waiting for my luck to run out.


The medical procedures continued, as they had to, even as my breath fogged up my plastic face shield, and I struggled to see what I was doing. The risk of making a mistake increased, even when conducting this simple outpatient procedure. Anxiety took hold, and I had to fight the impulse to tear off my uncomfortable and unwieldy gear. The goggles cut so deeply into my face that I sometimes started seeing double. I controlled my fear with deep breathing exercises, which served only to fog up my face shield more.

And yet, everything turned out fine, every time. I kept waiting for my luck to run out. That, or an end to the pandemic. None of this seemed humanly possible, and the working conditions I and the other providers in our network imposed on ourselves seemed similarly inhuman.

Combing my hair became a luxury, so I shaved my head. I began to dress in an improvised version of that space suit others had recommended. The time I had used to take care of my hair was now used to suit up.

Today, the challenge for my risky line of work is getting some of my patients used to telemedicine when possible. While many of my younger patients couldn’t be happier at the chance to treat their problems without leaving their room, others don’t trust it, especially older women who are used to making eye contact, judging me, and feeling my presence.

Yet telemedicine is a necessity now. The script I use to start my calls has become second nature: “My name is Maria Espinoza. Everything we discuss will be absolutely confidential. Everything I ask you is with the aim of getting enough information to make a diagnosis that helps me provide you with the best treatment possible. The main objective of this consultation is to allow you to exercise your rights as a woman. That’s why you should feel free to interrupt me whenever you feel the need to, and so that you can participate actively in this process. I’m here to listen to you, and you have my complete attention.”

I had always started patient conversations this way, but when the phone is our only link, it has become the key to getting close to the lives of the women I treat, gently.

This crisis within a crisis has taught me that responding to change with agility makes us stronger. Looking for solutions is what I have always done. It’s what we’ve always done, as women, as doctors, mothers, neighbors, daughters, sisters, and partners. The pandemic brought paralysis to my work at the beginning, but it didn’t last long. Women began to knock at my door, as they always have, and always will. I had to respond. Fear, commitment, responsibility, propelled me forward. But above all, the will to live and help other women live.

It is with this will, emanating from every solid beat of my joyful heart, that I hope that solidarity continues to fortify us, so that the many-colored hands of the earth can build a better future, in spite of the virus. To do it, we just have to look below and toward the left. That’s where our heart is, and I’m grateful to it.

Maria Espinoza (pseudonym) is a Mexican physician specializing in women’s sexual and reproductive health in a state where abortion is prohibited with some exceptions. For more than 20 years she has helped women assert their rights to make decisions regarding the “autonomous territory” of their bodies. Under her own name, she was a mentor at Kopkind in 2011.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on July 22, 2020, on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Poem for the Dead, & the Living

Alexander Cockburn, with his dog, Jasper (photo: Tao Ruspoli)

Eight years ago, just hours before members of the Occupy movement arrived at Tree Frog Farm for a special camp beginning July 21, 2012, our beloved friend Alexander Cockburn died. A brilliant journalist, cook, fancy man, Alex had once spent summers at the farm. With Andy Kopkind, his oldest friend in the US, John Scagliotti and others, he was part of the vivid, gamesome world that inspired so many of us who were young with the joy of politics, the joy of writing and doing—of living at an angle to the settled universe. One night during that camp, with torches blazing and flowers gathered from the garden and the field, people from the area came to tell and hear stories of their friend. At the end, one of the campers, Amin Husain, who’d been deeply involved in Occupy Wall Street, offered a poem by Nazim Hikmet. Called “On Living,” it goes, in part, like this:

Living is no laughing matter:

            you must live with great seriousness

                        like a squirrel, for example—

I mean, without looking for something beyond and above living,

                        I mean living must be your whole occupation.

. . .

I mean you must take living so seriously

            that even at seventy, for example, you’ll plant olive trees—

            and not for your children, either,

            but because although you fear death you don’t believe it,

            because living, I mean, weighs heavier.

II

Let’s say we’re seriously ill, need surgery—

which is to say we might not get up

                                    from the white table.

Even though it’s impossible not to feel sad

                                    about going a little too soon,

we’ll still laugh at the jokes being told,

we’ll look out the window to see if it’s raining,

or still wait anxiously

            for the latest newscast . . .

Let’s say we’re at the front—

            for something worth fighting for, say.

There, in the first offensive, on that very day,

            we might fall on our face, dead.

We’ll know this with a curious anger,

            but we’ll still worry ourselves to death

            about the outcome of the war, which could last years.

Let’s say we’re in prison

and close to fifty,

and we have eighteen more years, say,

                                    before the iron doors will open.

We’ll still live with the outside,

with its people and animals, struggle and wind—

                                    I mean with the outside beyond the walls.

I mean, however and wherever we are,

            we must live as if we will never die.

This excerpt of “On Living” is from Poems of Nazim Hikmet (Persea), translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk. Hikmet, born in 1902 in what was then the Ottoman Empire, was in a Turkish prison in 1948 when he wrote these lines. Turkish sailors had been reading and discussing his poems, and for that he, a well-known radical, was charged with inciting revolt in the armed forces, and sentenced to 28 years in 1938. Following a hunger strike and a national campaign, he was released in 1950. His work was banned in Turkey from 1938 to 1965. He died in Moscow in 1963. “Read and write without rest,” he advised those who will spend time in prison: weave, make mirrors, anything so that “the jewel on the left side of your chest doesn’t lose its luster.”





Scenes From a Pandemic: 16

19 07 2020

by Renee Bracey Sherman

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

We Testify abortion storytellers rally at Supreme Court for June Medical Services v. Russo oral arguments, March 2020.  (photo: We Testify)

Something’s Happening Here

Washington, D.C.

Last November, I drove more than 12 hours for an abortion. It wasn’t mine (I had mine in 2005); I picked up a young woman in rural Pennsylvania whom I’ll call Raquel. She needed a ride to a clinic in Maryland to get some pills that she would take back at her home to have a medication abortion. As we drove to the clinic, I told Raquel about what to expect during the appointment; after I finished I paused and said, “As much as I love getting to know you on this drive, did you know you could safely do this at home but the government won’t let you?” She was surprised. Like many people, she knew about limitations on abortion but didn’t know that very safe and basic methods are being restricted because of outdated FDA regulations on how they can be dispensed. The drive bonded us—we still keep in touch, and she approved the inclusion of her story here—but it was an unnecessary exercise, one that antiabortion politicians created to make yet another constitutional right as inaccessible as possible. The cruelty of the barricades along the journey is the point.

Since Covid-19 hit, I’ve thought a lot about that drive with Raquel, particularly as people have reached out needing abortions. States have limited travel, issued stay-at-home orders, and required people to quarantine for at least two weeks. While several states declared abortion an essential service, others exploited the pandemic to shutter clinics. The future we have worried about was upon us in an instant. Patients had appointments canceled. Those who could afford it, or who knew about abortion funds, were able to travel to other states for care. The moment was both unprecedented and familiar. The uselessness of our nation’s health care system was showing, and became even more burdensome on abortion patients.

In a just society, Raquel (or anyone wanting an abortion but anxious about contracting Covid-19) could have ordered the necessary pills via telemedicine, online, or at a pharmacy, and completed the abortion at home. That’s the way many people around the world do abortion, because it’s incredibly safe and simple. That’s how Americans once did it. Concoctions were advertised in newspapers and shipped through the mail, or herbs such as pennyroyal and black cohosh root were made into teas. But since the late 1800s, abortion has been deeply criminalized, and if Raquel had ordered the pills online, she and the person who sent them would have risked prosecution and jail.


Covid-19 has brought a taste of what life would be like if abortions were illegal, but then it always has been, in some form… What kind of nation allows people to be prosecuted for health care?


Recently, Polish abortion activists reminded me that all of our laws governing abortion actually promote criminalization. (To be sure, those are different from medical practice regulations that ensure procedures are performed correctly.) Rules dictate how, when, where, and why someone can have an abortion, and mandate a series of physical and legal barriers one must cross. Wait too long because you can’t afford the procedure? You can be criminalized. Take pills at home with a parent because you couldn’t afford a procedure? You both can be criminalized. Have a miscarriage, but a doctor thinks you self-managed an abortion? You can be criminalized. It doesn’t matter whether the rules are medically necessary or just, and of course, enforcement and punishment are significantly more severe with overpoliced communities of color and those who live in poverty.

What kind of nation allows people to be prosecuted for health care?

On July 13, just as this article was nearing publication, a federal judge issued an injunction on in-person requirements for dispensing pills necessary for a medication abortion, saying they create a “substantial obstacle” for patients, and may be an unconstitutional undue burden during a pandemic. The ruling allows providers to mail or deliver the pills to patients—an important step, however temporary, in juris-prudence and in people’s lives.

But this moment has radicalized me. I’ve never supported restrictions—I’ve ex-perienced the panic they create when I was unsure if I could afford an abortion—but I’ve realized that it’s time for us to push for decriminalization of abortion and the abolition of all abortion restrictions. There is no medical necessity for any of these laws restricting abortion. They just create a tightrope for people to fall from and then invite the police into the experience.

As Black Lives Matter protests have swept our country, we are having a national dialogue about the spaces and places police hang around to control black and brown people—schools, hospitals, grocery stores, coffee shops, and our homes. Police are heavily involved in our inability to exercise reproductive freedom; they brutalize us while pregnant; spray us with tear gas, which can affect our fertility; arrest people who choose to terminate a pregnancy outside of the narrow confines of the law; shoot our children; and shackle us during labor. We deserve police-free pregnancies. This is why the fight for reproductive justice is critical. It addresses systemic issues that have long prevented families of color from thriving on our own terms. It’s worth recalling that antiabortion white supremacists pivoted from rallying for school segregation to protesting abortion; they want to control our futures.

If we are serious about protecting abortion access, we have to become serious about the fight to abolish abortion laws. Our ancestors worked hard to ensure we had access to abortion to space our pregnancies, save our lives, and free us from the rape and violence of chattel slavery. It is in their tradition that we must continue to make abortion free and available, whenever and wherever someone needs it.

Covid-19 brought a taste of what life would be like if abortion were illegal again, but it always has been in some form through the criminalization of black and brown bodies. I hope that more people will realize that to have reproductive justice, we have to take extreme efforts to decriminalize our health care, defund the police, and create communities that love people who have abortions, unapologetically.

Renee Bracey Sherman is a reproductive justice activist, abortion storyteller, strategist, and writer. She is the founder and executive director of We Testify, an organization dedicated to the leadership and representation of people who have abortions and share their stories at the intersection of race, class, and gender identity. She is also executive producer of Ours to Tell, an award-winning documentary elevating the voices of people who’ve had abortions. She was a participant in Kopkind’s 2015 political camp.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on July 15, 2020, on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: ‘I Know the Price of Life’, a Radio Short From Gdansk

Maria Margaronis writes from London, with another in her series of shorts about women making masks; a slightly different version of this radio piece was broadcast on Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, on May 14.

Khedi Alieva (l) and her sister Amina (r) in Poland, amid the forsythia. (photo: Dorota Jaworska)

I spoke to Khedi Alieva this spring with the help of translator Joanna Dabrowska, and also to her friend, psychologist Dorota Jaworska. Khedi is a Chechen refugee in Poland. She and her sister Amina are members of Fundacja Kobiety Wedrowne, which roughly translates as Foundation for Women on the Road. Khedi and Amina were welcomed to Gdansk by Pawel Adamowicz, the city’s mayor for 20 years, who was fatally stabbed on January 13, 2019, while speaking at a charity event. Adamowicz’s support for migrant, minority and lgbt+ rights ran directly counter to the policies of Poland’s increasingly reactionary Law and Justice Party, which squeaked back to power this month on the back of a nasty campaign in which President Andrzej Duda attacked gay people, Jews, and liberals, who he says are undermining Poland’s security and traditions. 

Khedi, “making masks to slow down death.” (photo: Anna Rezulak / KFP)

But Khedi and her sisters are all about solidarity, gratitude, joy, and life. When the pandemic hit, they began sewing face masks and scrubs to protect their Polish friends, taking breaks to dance to the wild rhythms of Chechen music, a sampling of which Khedi chose for this piece. “The most important thing in life is just life.”

Maria Margaronis, a writer and radio maker, is a longtime neighbor and member of the Kopkind family. She is part of Kopkind’s honorary board. Click here to listen to her documentary about the Singer sewing machine. 





Scenes From a Pandemic: 15

14 07 2020

by Makani Themba

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

(photo: Gilbert Thompson)

Something’s Happening Here

Jackson, Mississippi

Before Covid-19, I would travel around the country, listening to people’s stories as we walked their block, or plotted the “beautiful next” in some center or meeting room. Now we are all in little boxes, trying to connect, trying to make it more human. People with wild virtual backgrounds or cute hats. It reminds me of freshman year moving into the dorms. There you are with your teddy bears and your posters to make your room feel a little less like the drab, institutional rectangle it is.  

The truth is, it’s crazy hard out here for so many of us. Covid has shifted racism and inequity into hyperdrive. Shuttered hospitals and limited testing in communities hardest hit. The intentional delay in distributing “stimulus” checks to indigenous nations while slashing funds for health services. A young black woman tells me a story – from her box to mine – about how the white children in her trailer park, not far from Chicago, come by her family’s home to spit and chant, “Covid is a n***a killer!” These children were taught that our disproportionate death related to Covid is an opportunity for ethnic cleansing.

This is a season of wild contrasts. The joyful exuberance of seeing our movements on the precipice of so many significant victories. It’s beautiful. I am breathless and giddy to live to see this moment that I had every confidence would come. And I am also anxious that, as the nation is riveted by global protests to address black lives taken by police violence, we have normalized the deaths of the many others who are also victims of state violence but in a different form.  


Police shootings are a gun to the head of Black America. Covid is the bomb. As cities like Jackson are left to fend for ourselves, Covid is also revealing how “we keep us safe”.


Police shootings are literally a gun to the head of Black America, while the government’s use of the pandemic to facilitate black and indigenous death is a full-on carpet bombing. And although they don’t exhibit the glee of those children in the trailer park, much of government appears to be on the same team.

I’ve watched testimony in city councils around the country against local ordinances to require protective masks in public. I’m struck by how often progressive frames are appropriated for conservative use: phrases like “crime against humanity” or “human rights violation,” along with the old tropes opposing public health protection as a matter of “freedom.” 

On May 19, the birthday of Malcolm X ironically, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves gave churches explicit permission to reopen. They were never officially closed in Mississippi, but this bit of grandstanding was part of the governor’s pandering to support Trump in solidifying his right-wing faith base. The governor insisted on lifting restrictions for businesses, too. There were 535 new Covid cases and 42 deaths that day. On June 22 there were 1,646 new cases and 40 deaths. Progressive mayors had instituted public protection rules in an attempt to “flatten the curve,” but as Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a recent interview about the “reopening” of the state: “It was clear that we [Jackson] are becoming an island. And if you’re on an island, it’s hard not to get wet.” On June 30, with new cases spiking, the mayor announced that wearing face masks would be mandatory in the city.

Covid is revealing all of the cracks and fissures in our systems – of care, of connection, in our economy.  As cities like Jackson are left to fend for ourselves, Covid is also revealing how “we keep us safe.”  

In my South Jackson neighborhood, masked volunteers sweat under the Mississippi sun as they hand out food and toilet paper. Many of the folk in line brave the heat hoping to be among the lucky ones to get a mobile Covid test before kits run out. The volunteers are friends and neighbors who have stepped up as part of the Jackson Covid Response. It’s a local coalition that includes Jackson State and Tougaloo College students; organizing groups like Poor People’s Campaign, Mississippi One Voice, People’s Advocacy Institute, Mississippi Immigrant Coalition, Democratic Socialists of America, and Black Youth Project 100; neighborhood groups and businesses like Operation Good, Strong Arms of Jackson, MOVE Church, and Bad Boy Tree Services; social service projects like Clean Slate Behavioral Health Collective; and multimedia outlets like the local branch of Black With No Chaser, which has a popular podcast in the community. This coalition is one of the hundreds of mutual aid networks springing up across the country to fill the gaps that the state refuses to address.   

The work is hard but it’s also adaptive, innovative, and generous. There’s deep grief in the face of rising Covid-related death as young and old die needlessly in prisons and detention centers. There is also vision as organizers move progressive District Attorneys to release “nonviolent offenders” by the thousands. In Jackson, Mayor Lumumba enacted an agreement to end arrests for misdemeanors and nonviolent offenses that activists believe will keep hundreds out of jail. Yet, hundreds more languish in detention centers and jails throughout the state. Activist Rukia Lumumba told me about a man bailed out by the Mississippi Bail Out Collective. He had spent two months in a DeSoto jail because he didn’t have $150. Thanks to the collective’s efforts, he is out now.

These are a just a few examples of the silo-busting work on the ground that makes the connections between culture, policing, health, immigration rights, and so much more. It’s a politic for our whole lives.

This work, these victories, are sunbursts in the midst of storms. We breathe. We listen. We plot. We dream. And we remember that it takes both the sunburst and the storm to make rainbows.

Makani Themba is an organizer, writer and strategist based in Jackson. Currently she serves as chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies. Makani is a long-time adviser to Kopkind and was a mentor in our first camp, in 1999, and then again in 2017.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on July 8, 2020, on The Nation‘s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: Moonlight in Vermont

On Lake Champlain (photo: Jon Flanders)

Jon Flanders, a steadfast supporter of Kopkind, sent us this picture from the northern reaches of Vermont, where he’s visiting family. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jon has been sending messages about the importance of Vitamin D, the latest good news from Cuba, the latest hair-raiser from New York, the latest protest in Troy, where he lives, the latest bulletin on global solidarity (here a wonderful talk by our friend Vijay Prashad on Che and a socialism of love), an upcoming concert for Cuba and so on. Jon is a retired railroad worker, an internationalist, an organizer of political events (here a recent discussion of labor history with JoAnn Wypijewski and others around Mike Stout’s new book about Homestead Steel, via a Zoom variant of the Connolly Forum), a photographer.

In any other July, we would be in the midst of a Kopkind camp right about now, at Tree Frog Farm in Southern Vermont. Jon’s moonlight photograph is from the opposite end of the state. It bears a message that also imbues Kopkind’s project: there is still beauty in this world; soak it in.





Scenes From a Pandemic: 14

6 07 2020

by Vasia Markides

A continuing series of dispatches from Kopkind participants, advisers, guests and friends on life in coronavirus time as they observe it.

(photos: Vasia Markides)

Something’s Happening Here

Stillwater, Maine

Biking through my neighborhood, I notice a new Trump/Pence sign on the lawn strewn with Americana ornaments. A far cry from the rainbow animal sculptures down the road celebrating LGBT pride. Our small community on the Stillwater River is sandwiched between the progressive college town of Orono, headquarters to the University of Maine, and the working-class paper mill community of Old Town, near the home of the Penobscot Nation and the world-famous canoe. These disparate places are connected by the river, which I am fortunate to have winding along my backyard. It was this river that offered sanctuary to my parents after a war divided our country, Cyprus, in 1974. This river was my companion as a child who spent most of her time outdoors. This river urged me to move with my family back to Maine from New York when, after eight years, the apple started to sour. This river, a small artery in the web of life, offers me relief today as humanity cries, I can’t breathe.

* * *

It may be hard for urbanites to understand the impact of nature’s elixir on those of us who choose a more rural existence. It is also hard here to maintain equilibrium kayaking down a lush river, say, knowing that tear gas and batons await so many who are dear as they take to city streets to demand basic human rights.

Over Zoom calls and driveway check-in sessions, I have heard friends struggle with depression and anxiety, crippled by fear.

Why am I at peace? 

At the risk of sounding detached, it struck me why my response feels different from what it perhaps should. The past two decades have dealt some First World blows. Financial hardship, physical injury, and professional disappointment were the start, but it was the two miscarriages and the premature death of seven people I adored that made the Grim Reaper more of a sidekick than a boogie monster.

At the same time, over those years, my anxiety about the state of the planet festered in the form of dystopian nightmares. Those nestled in my waking brain with the 2016 election. I knew nature would be sacrificed. Looking at my then-1-year-old, this felt like a hand around my throat.

Now, as human lungs labor across the globe, Earth has a reprieve. The Himalayas peek, unobscured by curtains of city smog. For a brief moment in the continuum of human destruction, a virus hit a pause button on us. The lonely filling station in town advertises gas at $1.48 a gallon. How low could the prices go? I wonder. Cars remain in the driveway, and billions of years of fossilized matter remains in the ground. Fewer particles choke the air.    

The planet’s future feels less grim, and in my tiny bubble this relieves more anxiety than Covid-19 produces. Could we collectively imagine that future without the suffering? Transfixed by the river, I have watched islands of ice break apart and thaw with each passing day, the geese announcing their victorious arrival in flying V formations. In the forest, seedlings take root around decaying birch trees, frogs croak sounds of a new season. With death comes life.

By confining us, the virus sends us inward. The killer becomes the universal muse, cracking open our minds and offering us new stories to tell. Anyone who has the luxury to reflect must at least acknowledge this moment of opportunity.

* * *

By month three of quarantine, those here who have yet to suffer a devastating personal loss appear to be adjusting. Like Alice falling down Wonderland’s well, we recognize our shattered reality. Familiarity with the Reaper offers us each a chance to start anew. As hibernation wanes, we can put one foot in front of the other and build a mosaic out of the shards. New projects arise; movements are born. People talk about revolutions.

In the forest, my now 4-year-old daughter finds a message, a painted rock hidden inside a dead tree trunk. On it is written the word breathe. She tells me she is going to leave it there, for nature. Yes, nature does need to breathe. She is our ventilator, after all. 

After years meandering this river’s edge, mosquitoes gnawing at my neck, ticks crawling up my scratched, muddy calf, I begin to understand the difference between living inside fear and living alongside it. Reassurance arrives in simple moments. A song lyric spontaneously crystallizes a thought and releases me from worry. Two bald eagles soar overhead just as, in the midst of a conversation, I mention my two late cousins, one having died of AIDS, the other of cancer. Timed just right, such occurrences stop me in my tracks, leave me dumbfounded. They remind me in the darkest hours that nature—this force that exists both inside and outside of us—hands us a kaleidoscope to see reality differently. Enables us to imagine what we cannot yet see, but might co-create. I walk, one foot in front of the other, soaking in the infinite hues of green.

Vasia Markides is a Cypriot-American artist, filmmaker, and activist. A painter by origin, Vasia is now director of the documentary Waking Famagusta and founder of The Famagusta Ecocity Project, an internationally recognized effort that aims to unite Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots in reclaiming the occupied ghost town of Famagusta, and reviving it as a model ecocity. She also freelances as a video producer in the US and abroad. Vasia participated in the Kopkind/Center for Independent Documentary Film Camp in 2018.

Scenes From a Pandemic is a Kopkind/Nation magazine collaboration. This piece originally appeared on July 1, 2020 on The Nation magazine’s website. We thank Katrina vanden Heuvel, D.D. Guttenplan and The Nation crew.

Bonus: A Truth in Every Joke

Lauren LoGiudice, an actor and comedian, typically creates characters from life experience. Below, “Spoiled Brat on the Beach”.

Lauren was a participant in Kopkind’s 2009 CineSlam mini-camp, organized around lgbtq film shorts. You can check out her characters and varied projects here. For the past few years she has also been doing impressions of Melania Trump in darkly comic short videos, public performances, and shows. She has a new book out: Inside Melania: What I Learned About Melania Trump by Impersonating Her.