At the start of lockdown physical contact became contentious. A heightened sense of awareness of who and what we were touching became a part of our collective consciousness. Touching became a concept; suddenly we felt through disposable rubber gloves, threw high fives at distance or waved through glass.
As we continue to navigate the ebbs and flows of the pandemic, we’re also trying to work our way back into touching without fear. Losing Touch was planned as a live poetry event in November 2020 bringing people together to share (distanced) space. In its place, a short film was created featuring new poetry works and accompanying smartphone footage filmed over lockdown and on tier-permitted excursions.
Losing Touch is a vertical video piece that captures the sadness and strangeness of this year’s physical disconnections.
Losing Touch was directed by Bayan Goudarzpour and features poetry from Raheela Suleman, Michelle Tiwo and Ola Elhassan .
To accompany this short film, poet and author Shareefa Energy has written on her experience of the past year.
Losing Touch – Shareefa Energy
Long reassuring hugs, affectionate kisses, holding newborn babies to welcome them into the family. Mothers, who would typically have someone’s hand to hold in the hospital room, receiving devastating news alone. The forms of letting someone feel reassured and appreciated through the love language of touch are being lost in the face of a pandemic.
In Bayan Goudarzpour’s Losing Touch film, Raheela Suleman, Michelle Tiwo and Ola Elhassan all explored the importance of touch, belonging and intimacy through poems written prior to the pandemic: whether it be longing to connect to a human body, reflections on the moon, or feelings of being marginalised and isolated. The themes still resonate, somewhat more profoundly.
This lockdown and social distancing since March has proven to be difficult for people the world over, for numerous reasons. Alongside the economic and financial strains placed on individuals and households, loss of touch and the dictated deterioration of this human need have taken a toll on many. Poet Michelle Tiwo expressed a longing for intimacy and affection, reflecting on the problems of desiring affection, and having love go unreciprocated.
Since March, I’ve felt the strain of having a newborn nephew and only being able to wave at him over a metre distance, or on Facetime (as he gurgles and giggles in his dads arms, blowing bubbles), of not being allowed to hold him. He’s now a walking, teething toddler. I can only hope children growing up in the pandemic era learn to understand their family haven’t been avoiding showing them love, by not throwing them in the air and catching them as we normally would.
I’ve felt the brunt of knowing my grandmother, who only speaks Gujarati, was admitted into hospital after having a stroke. This affected her memory and I saw her impacted by PTSD after being left alone in a hospital for a week by herself, without family or home cooked food. I felt the harshness of having to stand away from her, standing in the doorway when all I wanted to do was hug and hold her and kiss her beautiful face. I recall the first two months of the lockdown, the impact of not having hugged anyone, the fear of not seeing my family again for a long time, feeling very emotional missing my sister’s children and my parents.
My father unfortunately was unable to hold his mother for the last time before she passed away in July. He was unable to board a flight and be there for her, as he would have done in the blink of an eye. Due to covid, he lost his two sisters in India, his mother and his two aunties all in the space of two weeks. Not being able to attend funerals, to see the face of his mother and the women in his families for the last time, has proven difficult. It’s a grief many in similar situations have not been able to process, grief on pause until it is safe to fly to their homeland again and visit loved ones’ graves. This year has been intense for many in terms of loss, I don’t feel many fully comprehend the extent of it at present. It is unfortunate that so many people who lost parents and loved ones since the start of the pandemic were not able to physically be there for them in hospital, during their most vulnerable anxious time, before they passed away. I don’t think many people will be able to forgive themselves, though this choice was out of their hands, and my heart goes out to them.
Precautions meant that people who are used to being held, and having love affirmed by embrace, had this taken away from them. I come from a family where people rarely hug or tell each other they love each other. It’s always an awkward hug if I attempt to hug my sisters or my dad. I’m someone who needs physical warmth from others, it’s a big part of communication that keeps me emotionally balanced – feeling connected to others through touch. Michelle Tiwo’s poem spoke of feelings of withdrawal from a lack of touch and intimacy. I understand why people on Twitter have been posing the question, “No seriously, when am I going to lipse again?” Humans need a release of good hormones in this void of physical intimacy.
Since lockdown, I’ve taken up learning horseriding. Horses give me the warmth, love and affection we’ve been deprived of this year, as well as the joy that comes with learning something new. I’m allowed to kiss their face, hug and cuddle them, clean, groom and feed them, and give them the exercise they need: like us they need exercise to keep healthy and their muscles working. This has been my favourite part of this year; losing touch with humans but gaining touch and a connection with horses. I also wanted to challenge the class privilege of ethnic minority, working class people not having access to horses, which are often seen as out of our reach.
Post-Tier 4 quarantine, lockdown, when the world is less fearful – what will we as a society take away from this experience? Will we learn to be warmer towards one another? Will we be happier to be allowed to sit on trains and buses where people aren’t wearing masks, grateful to see each other’s faces and smiles? Will we make the effort to see our family who live overseas, in countries whose borders have been closed since March, will we make the effort to see them more? Will we become more withdrawn and introverted, only comfortable with our own space? Or will we rush to get dressed and adorn ourselves for any occasion we’re aware of, or invited to? I for one look forward to performing poetry to a live audience again, taking up space on a stage and making eye contact. Greeting and hugging people, instead of the bleak substitute of performing to the camera on my phone, in an unoccupied room, my own face looking back at me.