Hamlet’s Lesson

I still remember when I first heard about the coronavirus.

2019 was a bittersweet year. I spent the first half of it at Washington College, a not-so-small college in a frozen-in-time conservative-looking Maryland town. I experienced for the first time in my life (I was 22) what snow felt like, I got to talk in a language not my own for more than two weeks straight (the typical length of my previous trips to America), and I met wonderful people (I frequently talk with two of my professors and two of my students, all of them close friends now).

But the second half… Well, it was tough. I couldn’t attend classes in Argentina because the academic year here begins in March and not in August. So I had to stay at home, away from my classmates and the whole university environment that always did me well. It didn’t take too long for my long-forgotten depression to kick in. Without something to entertain itself, my mind went back to its old habits: self-loathing and apathy. 

And that’s how I received 2020: downright melancholic and nostalgic, not being able to get off the bed, without reading nor writing. And that’s when news about this new virus started to stand out here in Argentina. Journalists would report that things were bad in China (and its despotic, authoritarian government was trying to cover it all up), but almost next to nothing was known about it.

“Oh, great,” I thought, “it’s like in 2009, just another swine flu. Give it a month or so, and it will be over.” I’m sure now that God laughed right at that moment. I was naïve enough not to care at all (and politicians here did the same) since my mental health was my top priority. Lithium pills started to do their job and, when one morning I was able to dance to “Club at the End of the Street,” I knew I was (almost) cured. 2020 seemed promising: I would be getting a second chance at life, a redemption. Back to classes, back to seeing my friends, back to being busy. Nothing could go wrong, right?

I moved to a students’ residence in Buenos Aires to become a little less dependent on my family (although they were the ones paying for everything), and there I met my two Ecuadorian roommates, who would become close friends. Everything was great: we watched anime, we listened to Bad Bunny, we smoked cigarettes, and drank so much beer that, the first Friday of classes, in what would be my last physical, face-to-face course in college as of now, I dozed off in my chair due to my massive hungover.

I visited my parents that weekend because I missed my house, and that’s when the president spoke to the nation: quarantine would be mandatory starting next Monday. We didn’t know back then what that entailed; we couldn’t fathom the repercussions. Thinking it couldn’t last more than two weeks (at most), I went back to my residence feeling excited: I would be able to read whatever I wanted since they were probably going to prescribe us a compulsory holiday season. But my college (Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina) must have known something we didn’t because, after their initial silence, they started warning us that classes might go momentarily virtual. 

Wait, what? Is it supposed to last that long? The government (as always) was being completely inefficient and didn’t communicate clearly their plans (I’m guessing because they didn’t have any). So we were at a loss. How did virtual classes work anyway? I didn’t know back then that being a student would become such a chore, such a painful burden. I suffered my education’s virtuality. I wasn’t learning as much; I couldn’t pay attention. I had never had these problems in college; I felt like a high school student again, all frustrated and bored.

So I got really anxious too (I do suffer from anxiety and depression), being trapped in a small room with two strangers. That’s when I started smoking like a chimney: two packs a day, sometimes more, never less. There was a cigarette shortage for a moment, so I had to walk many blocks and go to every store in my neighborhood until I could find decent (if I can say so) cigarettes to smoke. And I drank a lot, too—no alcohol, or not a lot of it, but mainly Coca-Cola. So I always felt bloated and out of breath, my stomach and my chest hurt constantly, and I couldn’t sleep well (which was not good, since I had to get up around seven every morning). 

I studied all day, every day. I don’t know how I put up with so much studying. I didn’t watch any series; I didn’t read the books I wanted to; I didn’t go downstairs to play pool or poker. I was just focusing on my courses. This was probably just a defense mechanism: if not studying and being away from my classmates made me depressed, being trapped in my room, I had to study extra to cling to my sanity. That was not life: for a whole semester, I didn’t live at all. 

I didn’t mention that the residence I was in wasn’t my first pick. I always wanted to go to one in Recoleta, an Opus Dei Hogwarts-like “Center of Studies,” not because I’m a believer (I’m the complete opposite), but because it was the most exclusive, elegant one in Argentina. And when there was finally a place for me there, I moved out, leaving my two loyal Ecuadorian friends behind. Although Ecuador was still bound to haunt me since, when I got to CUDES (the new residence), other Ecuadorians there were cooking autochthonous food, and I helped them out to mingle with them. 

I had gained much weight during the last year (I hit triple digits, in kilograms), so now people would call me “Gordo” (literally “fat”); it was the first time in my life that someone had appealed to my weight to characterize me. It bothered me initially, but then I got used to it (as people usually do). 

There I met the most interesting people. I already knew an Uruguayan living there, but I got to know a Honduran filmmaker that blew my mind. We became closer as time went by, and now he’s got a place in my heart. I also established strong relationships with the numeraries there (people devoted to Christ and their work). They tried more than once to convert me to Catholicism, but every time I politely declined. However, I went to mass once and confessed to a Korean priest (a great friend of mine) all of my sins.

I gave a couple of final exams, but not as many as I would like to. My GPA went down a bit, but it didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would. I skipped many classes, mainly because I was getting really bored, and because I wasn’t able to stay more than an hour in front of a screen without smoking a cigarette (that problem didn’t go away, sadly). I didn’t like what we were studying the second semester: too many bizarrely and painfully marginal authors and none of the classics. Professors seemed duller too, more annoying than ever, excruciatingly plain and silly. 

My insomnia worsened. I would stay up until 4:00 in the morning, not able to fall asleep. My Honduran friend would play LoL while I studied right beside him, and that would go on for hours until night became day. Most days, I didn’t sleep at all before my courses, so I ended up falling asleep before lunch, which I missed more than once. 

2020 was a rocky year, but it had its highlights. I made great new friends (the Honduran one); I was able to write again (poems, basically), something that’s of the utmost importance to me; I reorganized my priorities (being happy is at the top, along with being both physically and mentally healthy); I became a better friend, a better son.

Being trapped in a bedroom was hard, but it gave me much time to think. So I thought and thought long and hard. And I realized that what we most value in life, freedom, is mainly a state of mind. I finally understood, after a year of being a prisoner, what Hamlet meant when he said: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.”


Submitted by Felipe Rodolfo Hendriksen

Felipe Rodolfo Hendriksen studies Literature at Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina. He currently lives in Quilmes.

Hopefully Broken

Konnor opened his eyes, city streets coming into focus around him. Everything else had been nonexistent as he drifted within himself.

Now the noise of the city deafened him. Cars, and people rushed by on their way to whatever place they thought they had to go. The hardness of the bench he sat on made him want to stand but he stayed still, the slight discomfort was a welcome distraction. 

“You were lost again, weren’t you?” A voice to his left said softly. Konnor looked over to see Sarah sitting beside him on the bench. Her blonde hair rippled occasionally in the light autumn breeze, her cheeks were rosy from the chill. He had forgotten that she was with him. 

“Yes.” He had given up explaining how he felt.

“Why do you do that to yourself?” 

“My words go unheard, my actions go unnoticed. In the end all of my suffering was pointless. I can’t make a difference because people don’t want anything different, they want things to be the same as they always have been.” 

Sarah looked like she was going to say something else, then turned back to watching the traffic. She had only ever known Konnor since he had lost hope, and she had remained longer than those that had known him before.

“You know you can’t go on like this. Eventually you’re going to get trapped in your own darkness again. And then what? It’s what you want but you’ve also told me before about how much you wanted to escape it last time you were there. Do you think you would survive it again?” She said so quietly that her words were almost lost in the noise of the city. 

“Is simply surviving enough? Is that all we are here to do? I’ve tried to live to the fullest, I’ve tried to make a difference with my life, and live each moment for the greater good so that our species can continue to evolve. All it accomplished was making me feel alienated from everybody. If I get lost in the darkness again then so be it, if I don’t survive then the world can go on as it is. Comfortably numb in it’s stagnation.” 

“No.” She let that one word crack like a whip, pausing for a moment before she spoke again, “The world will not go on as it is. It will go on without you. It’ll be missing one more real person, and you know it needs as many of those as it can get. You see the emptiness of our society, and you feel it more than anybody else, that’s why we need you. If you give up on us like you have given up on yourself then there truly is no hope.” Sarah said, her green eyes burned fiercely. 

“You see the world’s pain too. We all cling desperately to what makes us feel okay. Even being broken. Our potential is squandered in routine, and suffering.” His words felt hollow.

“If that is all you think exists then that is what you will see. I know the world needs help, and that’s a heavy burden to carry. It doesn’t invalidate the parts of life that are still beautiful. That’s why we hold on to the hope that we can make things better.”

“How can I help the world when I can’t even help myself?” The question slipped out of him, a glimmer of something more that shifted within his being.

“You have to let someone in. A counselor, a friend, someone. I know that’s hard for you. I know you’re scared to let others see how broken you are but you can’t carry the weight of existence by yourself. You’re so trapped inside your own awareness because you’ve never given anybody a chance to share it.”

She grabbed Konnor’s hand, her skin soft against his, and stared into his eyes. She looked deeper into him than he had ever thought another person would ever be capable of. 

Konnor wanted to turn away, to get up, to run. He knew if she saw the truth she would give up on him like everybody else had. 

He couldn’t move though. 

He couldn’t stop her. 

Konnor saw it in the slight widening of her eyes as she realized how dead inside he was. He watched as the same sadness, and emptiness filled her. Tears leaked from the corner of her eyes but she didn’t look away. 

She didn’t leave him. 

His breath felt forced, and his muscles ached from the urge to turn away. He had let her feel his pain. It was bad enough that Konnor had done this to himself but now he had done it to the only person that actually cared about him. 

He watched her struggle against giving into the darkness, eyes closed as she inhaled and exhaled heavily. They sat like this for a long time. Konnor thought he had broken her the same way he had broken himself. Then she opened her eyes, and with tears streaming down her face she smiled at him.

“Please let me help carry this with you,” she said finally.

Submitted by Elan Wayne Thunderfeet

Waves

Waves crashing on the shore
sweeping away the sand.
Wind rushing through the trees,
taking the leaves that cling to the branches.
Waves crashing, wind rushing,
and there you stand amid the chaos.
A piece of you longs to reach out,
to stop the torment.
Another piece knows
you would be swept away
by the waves,
with the leaves and sand.
You once swam the waters
that crash at the mercy of the wind.
But you found the rock
that the wind touches,
but never moves.

Submitted by Thamer Linklater.


Thamer Linklater is a Cree artist from Northern Manitoba. She is a survivor of the Millennial Scoop and works to spread awareness about Indigenous issues. She is currently working on earning her masters at Trent University. In her downtime she enjoys singing, dancing, writing, and painting. 

2011-2017: My Teens

The 2010s, the decade that just ended, can be called the “Teens”. Throughout the past decade many changes came along including globalization, the social media revolution, Youtubers, and the #MeToo movement. I spent most of the decade in my hometown, in my bedroom, online. In this series of images, I explore my teens as seen through rites of passage, the shoes and glasses I used to wear, and my own development. My bedroom continues to be the same as it was throughout my teenage years. It was in my teens that I began to become more aware of myself, my body and my face. My friends would follow YouTube makeup artists like Jeffree Star. I would read Nylon and Vogue magazine, watch reality TV, most notably, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. This series is about my self-perception and may serve as a portrait of my younger, naïve self. Looking back on my teens, I realize how part of my maturing has been unpacking gender norms and beauty standards I had embraced. These images show the girl I was from 2011 to 2017.


I realized looking back at photo-strips, I wore my hair straight often. However, all my student ID and passport pictures featured my naturally curly hair. I remember being annoyed when my curls would stick out. I believed in a bias that tidy, straight, sleek hair was professional, prettier.

To have clear skin was of utmost importance to me as a teenage girl. Now, I continue to inspect my face after showering, and apply Cetaphil moisturizer after. Once I apply my moisturizer, I no longer think about the clearness of my skin until the next time I shower, or I see an ad on Instagram about skincare.

Whiteheads, an oily nose, used to be something that made me feel insecure. This concerned me more than getting a pimple. Hormonal changes throughout adolescence influence skin’s appearance. I wish someone had told me that to some extent my skincare was out of my hands. The stress coming from having flawless skin would have been better placed on developing a healthy diet.

I remember when I first began shaving, I would always manage to miss a spot. If I were sitting at school and noticed I had missed my knees (the only visible spot between my knee-length skirt and high socks), I would feel embarrassed. I doubt anybody noticed but me. Hairlessness in women only came about in the early 20th century. I now see shaving as a choice, not an expectation.

Part of ‘coming of age’ is growing to accept oneself. I was confident in myself academically and with my family, but part of my maturing with time was becoming comfortable and confident around others. 

I never got the hang of makeup, but I tried my best. I regularly use blush, mascara, some lipstick. I still debate whether to wear my eyeglasses or not whenever I go out.

I never caught onto watching Youtube makeup artists. I got most of my makeup tips from my older sister. I never learned how to do eye-shadow, but eventually gained confidence with eyeliner. I began getting my eyebrows waxed when I was sixteen.

My high school experience consisted of attending lots of quinceañeras and formal dances. By the time I graduated, I could easily last all night in high heels. I now rarely find myself in heels. I either wear my Reebok sneakers or Birkenstock’s every day.

Coming out to society, going into the real world, these are portraits of me as I underwent rites of passage. The way my hair is done, the white versus the red gown, are stark differences in these two portraits. I also have braces in the graduation picture. It took a lot for me to smile with my teeth when I had braces.

I had not tried on my cotillion dress since my senior year of high school when I was asked to model it for the new class of debutantes as an example of a dress meeting all the cotillion committee’s guidelines. It no longer fits me. It is also very hard to move around in. I show it here as a weight no longer on my shoulder along with the gender norms that came with it.

The small green eyeglasses were my first pair of eyeglasses. I got those at my eye doctor’s office in the seventh grade. I rarely wore them; I felt insecure in them. Eventually, I had to wear them, especially if my seat was far from the board in the classrooms. I bought my own pair of eyeglasses, the clear ones, as a junior in high school, and since then, I have worn glasses every day.

The camera pictured here was my high school graduation present. My camera is a symbol of how my perspective has changed since high school. The perception I have of myself and my home changed as independence and college life provided me with a new lens to view my past through.

Submitted by Jimena Padilla

Zodiac Zoom Happy Hour

When Saturn and Pluto met and formed a conjunction in Capricorn on January 12, their connection was so powerful that we still feel the effects of it today. Karma met inner power, consequence met generational transformation. These themes were most strongly felt in work-life balance, ambition, and practicality, all Capricorn traits. When looking at astrological predictions for the coming months, we must not forget the power of the planet of laws meeting the planet of ruthlessness in the sign of goals and motivations.

Jupiter and Pluto are doing a cosmic waltz this year, with three conjunctions all in 2020. The first happened on April 5, with Jupiter in prograde, and the next is set for June 30, with Jupiter in retrograde. In April, Jupiter brought with it expansion and unbridled optimism in a generationally powerful context. In June, these gifts will be transformed into a personal journey towards higher learning, specifically from mistakes. Jupiter retrograde will bring detours into one’s life and when it meets with Pluto it will bring these detours towards our inner powers and our generational strengths and weaknesses.

Venus began its retrograde motion on May 13 in Gemini, bringing with it themes of acknowledging the dark underbelly of our relationships, whether romantic, familial, or platonic. A common misconception of retrograde motion is that it is “bad” in all senses. It is not — it is a time of reflection and realization, a time where the honeymoon phase wears off. Gemini, ruled by Mercury, is energetic and talkative, meaning communication involving relationships may be stunted as we are revealed just how our relationships function.

The Sun enters Gemini on May 20. As stated before, Gemini is ruled by Mercury, which gives this time the themes of expression, charm, and fast-paced living in the day-to-day. This time will make us feel more restless and more social. Frustrations with stay-at-home orders will grow even more. Venus in retrograde in Gemini will also affect these frustrations, making it harder for most people to live at home with whoever they have decided to isolate with. Be cautious and be aware of these influences. They will cycle out in due time.

The new moon is on May 22 in Gemini. This is the time to set intentions and goals for the coming lunar cycle. Look at how you are affected by all this cosmic noise and make a plan for the next 28 days.

Illustration by Rachel Kirkwood

Aries: Spending your birthday at home was the last thing you wanted to do, but you did it, and you should be proud of yourself. To keep yourself occupied and your mind off of how your day was stolen, start planning a half birthday or ¾ birthday party. Remember, just because you didn’t get it before doesn’t mean you can’t later. Your loved ones adore your energy and will want to celebrate you no matter how late it is. Your ruling planet Mars is at a relatively stable state in Pisces right now, so take advantage of this stability.

Taurus: Venus is your ruling planet, Taurus, so Venus in retrograde will most likely be a struggle in the beginning. If you’re well prepared, however, it doesn’t have to be. If you haven’t started being introspective about your relationships, now is the time. Try to discover themes in the way you and your loved ones interact. Do something special — the ability to explore new restaurants on takeout apps was made for you, so take a moment to be self-indulgent and include your favorite person (who you’re quarantining with) in the excitement.

Gemini: There is a lot of cosmic chaos happening in your sign this month. The Sun in your sign mixed with a retrograde Venus in your sign will leave you feeling confused and conflicted. Don’t let that ruin your moment — your solar return should be special. You love to be social and be entertained, so schedule a Zoom session for your birthday. Spend time calling people you love, being outside, and picking up new hobbies to keep yourself happily occupied and satisfied. Your season is still your season.

Cancer: Your sensitivity has been tested throughout this entire year with so much action happening in your opposite sign, Capricorn. You have been able to prove to others that you can hold your own when you need to, but it has undoubtedly taken a toll. The retrogrades happening this month can allow you to reconnect with yourself. Venus in retrograde especially can aid you in letting your closest friends know what you need to thrive right now. Your ruling planet, The Moon (which is considered a planet in astrology!) resets itself on May 22. That time will be more important to you than to anyone else. Use it wisely.

Leo: As someone who is a natural leader and hates being told what to do, you want to rebel very badly. You don’t necessarily dislike being alone, you just dislike being told to be alone. Take that power back and choose to self-isolate. Many people are making the choice to disobey orders, so make the choice to do otherwise. Your planetary ruler, The Sun, moves into Gemini soon, which will make you chatty and energetic. Be the leader you are and be the one who plans the Zoom call or the first person to text in the group chat for a while. Once you decide to get up every day and save the world, you’ll feel a lot more in control.

Virgo: Your uncanny ability to clean up everyone’s messes has been a great relief to your friends and family during this time. You’ve been able to express your love in the best way you know how, with help. As Venus begins its retrograde motion, however, you will certainly be heavily affected, as Venus is naturally in fall in your sign. Make sure you have the time and energy to come to terms with your own thoughts this Venus retrograde. You will be far more helpful to others when you help yourself. Your ruling Mercury enters Cancer on May 28, which will help you be more caring and sensitive to yourself. Clever Virgo, do not forget this: you matter as much as everyone else in your life.

Libra: Just like Taurus, your ruling planet is Venus, making this retrograde affect you extra intensely as well. There’s no better time than now for some me-time, Libra, so do what you do best and treat yourself. Order a new fancy face mask for your whole quarantine house to try while you sip red wine and watch a movie. Just remember to keep track of the way your relationships are responding to Venus retrograde and don’t do so much me-time that you neglect said relationships. Communication will be key for you.

Scorpio: Modern astrologers say your ruling planet is Pluto, while more traditional astrologers say it’s Mars. Pluto has been involved in some powerful action, while Mars has been relatively stable, moving into Pisces on May 13. It’s up for you to decide, Mysterious Scorpio: are you the calm or the chaos? Confusion might be arising from Pluto, but you have a stable and dependable old friend in Mars. You’ve always been one to ruminate on your state of being. Don’t let the cosmic clashes get in your way of your own clarity. Though you might feel powerless, you should know you have a deep-set power within you, gifted to you by Pluto. Use it to regain control. 

Sagittarius: The ever-adventurous Sagittarius is the most likely of the zodiac to be cursing the quarantine. Your ruling planet, Jupiter, began its retrograde motion on May 14, causing you to be even more frustrated as you become introspective on the very traits that make you you. Be strong, Sag. The opportunity to learn and grow is right in front of you. Your constant exploration of the world doesn’t always have to be physical. If you miss your favorite bar, study its history. If you’re dying to travel, study the language of the place you want to see the most. Everything you love to do normally you can still accomplish.

Capricorn: All the most powerful and rare cosmic events have happened in your sign, Capricorn! This year has been especially tumultuous for you but you are also the most well-equipped to handle it. While others have been struggling to come to terms with the karmic energy in the air, you are well acquainted with it, even more so because your ruling planet is Saturn. Remember that as you encounter each new problem that arises: you were built for this. Your knowledge of the laws of the world will be crucial going forward. All this movement in your sign is a blessing and a curse. Focus on the blessings, leave the curses.

Aquarius: With Saturn as your ruling planet and your oh-so-Aquarius taste for rebellion, you can handle anything that comes your way. You already knew this though. Some more modern astrologers say your ruling planet is Uranus, the planet of rebellion and overthrowing the norm, which does make perfect sense for you. Now is certainly a time for a new normal, so enjoy that. Let your activist side shine through and be a leader for those who aren’t as comfortable with change. It might be scary for you too, but you have the instinct for uncertainty that many lack.

Pisces: Neptune is in your sign, Pisces, and according to modern astrologers, that is your ruling planet (traditionals will argue it is Jupiter). Either way, you have a grand opportunity now for self-reflection. Neptune is the planet of the subconscious, of dreams, and Jupiter is the planet of higher learning and expansion, now in retrograde. You have all the cosmic tools you need to examine yourself, your place in life, and where you want to go. It might be scary, but you will benefit greatly from taking advantage of this opportunity.

Stars read by Carina Marx.

Playlist

It’ll All Work Out

As I stepped out into the dark night,
the cold air drew my warm blood to the surface.
The clovers under my feet bent their stems temporarily
to bear my weight.

As frozen droplets of mist melted under my toes,
thousands of piercing diamond eyes peered at me through the black sky,
winking occasionally.

A deep breath in and a sigh of beauty exhaled.

I scanned the sky for the big dipper:
That giant spoon that is always trying to scoop up the north star.
Although he will never catch her,
he does help those less celestial beings locate that
always steady glowing presence.

And tonight,
they gave me my sense of direction.

As I my eyes traced from the dipper’s edge
straight to the north star,
I turned and began my journey.

Sorry or Please

My feet landed at a steady pace
to the beat of an imaginary drum.

The wind whipped through the trees,
whistling through the puckered leaves,
and crickets rubbed their wings to sing.

The night was playing its daily soundtrack.
The one mockingbird, getting to an early start,
was the star of the show.

As I took long strides, my hips swayed from side to side.
I warmed up as I walked
further and further away.
The circulation in my body flowed faster,
keeping up with my pace.

What began as a slow walk, crescendoed to a swift walk.
And then the swift walk took off
into a sprint. Soon,
I was running as fast as I could.

But the Regrets Are Killing Me

Tears streamed from my eyes and streaked the side of my face.
Some flew off, while others made their way
into the crevices of my ears and into the abyss
of my black hair.

What was I running from?
From my thoughts?
From Death?
From Life?

Dirt collected in my toes,
huddled with broken pieces of various flora.

Mixed emotions filled my mind.
Fragments of memories every time I closed my eyes to wipe the tears.

My heart pounded and my breath was heavy,
but I kept running.

The north star had given me a sense of geographical direction, but why couldn’t she direct my mind?
Go North thoughts!
Head towards a better place.

Or maybe it’s West?
Just go in some linear direction!
Just move away from this!

We Would Fall Against the Tide

And then I stopped.
My body could take no more.
Out of breath, I hunched over,
and my arms used my legs as support.

Now my eyes were pointed down at the ground
at my soiled feet.

My tears went strait to the earth.
I could not stop.
I continuously produced several drops of rain
for select square inches of grass.

My legs eventually billowed,
and I was soon on the cold ground.
The blades welcomed my skin with soft,
chilling touches,
while other weeds annoyingly poked at me,
trying as hard as they could to get me
to stand up.

But I was not moving.

Hopeless and confused,
I curled into myself.

Eventually, I ran out of tears.
The breathing calmed,
my heart slowed,
and all that was left
was a quite quivering of my lips:
from the cold or from the crying?
who could tell.

And there,
somewhere closer to the north pole,
balled up
with eyes swollen from the thousand of saline tears that had forced themselves out,
then and there…
I fell asleep accepting.

Submitted by Katherine Nawilis