One year ago we were told to stay home. We thought it would be like this for several weeks, for a couple of months. We postponed our plans and eventually canceled them entirely. We were clinging to each other, to our small and fragile universe, looking out at the storm that was roaring outside. On March 13, my university was still open but I canceled my classes so that my students could be safe. My children had the last real in-person learning that day. I checked my inventory for masks and gloves and was happy to find a bit of both. It was still cold, although the tulips started growing in our front yard.
What followed was a cascade of closures, absolute stillness, no cars, and a creeping realization that this is going to be a long stretch, and that we have to adjust to that. I started baking and trying new dishes; I even remembered the school lessons of sewing and made a couple of homemade face masks. But all these things were small compared to the paralyzing feeling of dread I experienced when reading the news, hearing from my friends from over the world, and worrying sick for my family. What got me out of that miserable state was music – I wrote about it before – the home livestreams of music heroes of mine but most of all, the first concert Kerry Ellis gave on Instagram. Listening, singing along, and crying, I suddenly felt the urge to start writing again, and it was a path that led me back to life.
This combination of various crutches, my family, my garden, music, stereos, chats with friends, livestreams of operas and ballets, kept me sane through the first lockdown. I would count the weeks of quarantine in the beginning till things started opening up in June. I stopped thinking about the future, and many of my plans and dreams disappeared into thin air. But the air itself was delightful, so refreshing, so free of fumes and gases, and nature was blooming.
Even though at the moment it felt like I am stuck in this suspended state of mind and soul, I actually was gaining something. New practices: morning workouts, daily walks (they became a huge inspiration for both my texts and stereos). New dishes: finally mastering the art of baking kulich, a delicious, sweet bread that Russians traditionally prepare for the Orthodox Easter. New activities: online stereo clubs, my own virtual film club, a lot of chatting with friends worldwide. And writing a lot – mastering the art of English essays, one of my primary goals.
One of the biggest lessons of this year that I have not even comprehended in full yet was the nature of time. Usually structured and split between different activities and chores, it suddenly started flowing freely, with its eternal and indifferent grace. Observing it, living through this process, was both terrifying and breathtaking; I think you only get a chance to experience it when going through liminal states, such as giving birth, deep grieving, or hard illness. But it teaches you a lot, even though it is hard to put these results into words.
Of course, music followed me everywhere, or to be more precise, I took it with me, intuitively choosing what was the best remedy for a certain moment. I went through the period of Bob Dylan’s 70s albums, especially after watching two stunning Scorsese’s documentaries (No Direction Home and Rolling Thunder Revue), through Elton John’s piano concerts of the early 1980s, through the Russian rock music, and through the constant presence of two of my personal pillars of rock, Beatles and Queen.
And so it goes, a year has passed, separating us from everything that happened before the pandemic; vacillating between hope and desperation, I look into the unknown, trying to keep my optimism, trying to keep my cool. One step at a time, one day at a time, just make sure it is filled with music.
Katya Neklyudova, 2021