Isabel Mareş writes about different ways of survival and how finding a creative community helped her find her way through a difficult time.
Isabel Mareş is a Romanian-American creative working at the intersection of faith, community, and art. She serves over 170 JCCs (Jewish Community Centers) across North America in the areas of cultural arts and civic dialogue, writes music, performs and leads workshops for people of all beliefs and abilities. </br></br>Isabel has served as Art Editor of Pocket Samovar, a post-Soviet literary magazine, and Sequoia Grove Journal, a culmination musings from the ecotheological community. She identifies as a femme queer, disabled person and lives in Brooklyn, NY with her feline, canine, and human loves – Pluto, Potato, and Dani.
There are infinite ways to survive. There is water, there is air, there is sunlight. There is shelter, there is sleep. There is laughter. There is the invisible electricity between your skin and someone else’s. There is trust. There, too, is language.
In the belly of a pandemic, the ways in which we survive have been tested. I used to commute to the middle of Midtown Manhattan from my Brooklyn apartment, rubbing elbows and sharing exhaust-flavored air with thousands of human beings. I used to bum cigarettes off strangers. I used to hold subway poles and forget to wash my hands. I’d eat a sandwich after and lick my fingers.
None of us is made for isolation, and I was furthest from it before March 2020.
After two months of quarantine, a dramatic pay cut, not to mention a crisis of identity, there was new survival vocabulary to learn. Or perhaps it was a language I – we – had spoken before, and just needed to practice. I used to be bilingual as a child. Romanian tangled with English. Then I lost it in the desire to assimilate – a more compromising survival tool.
The best way to practice is with others. From across my ether-sustained community, a poet and friend, Konstantin Kulakov, reached out. He had a curious and timely proposition. He asked me to be the Art Editor for a new literary magazine and cultural hub, Pocket Samovar, for writers and artists in the post-Soviet diaspora – for those of us who seek connection and catharsis for our dislocated histories.
The task ahead of us was large. Our team of editors were scattered across time zones. Boulder, New York, Luxembourg, Poland. Our contributors were cast even wider. Alabama, Israel, Kazakhstan, Russia. The printing press we had planned to use burned down over the summer of 2020, and the pandemic continued to rage. Here in the U.S., Black Lives Matter swept the arteries of our cities, finding its way even into suburbs, then igniting the rest of the world. Belarus, Bulgaria, and Poland rose up for their bodies and autonomy. We had known in our bones that these struggles were connected and collective. Now it was clear.
As we reviewed a tremendous and inspiring body of work, we realized Pocket Samovar would best serve as a “virtual tearoom” for whoever needed it. While COVID rewrote the rules of engagement, Pocket Samovar became a transcendent space of many tongues, inheritances, ghosts, dreams, and truths. Something of the past, of the dislocated, hyphenated post-Soviet cultural memory, was surviving.
Had we not been cut off from each other in the most dramatic and grave ways, I don’t know whether I would be a part of Pocket Samovar, or whether it would have bloomed for me and so many others. I am okay with the mystery of it, too.
In those pages I found community. In digital diaspora I found myself. The present and future felt a little more honest and inhabitable because of Pocket Samovar.
There are infinite ways to survive.
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