John Simmons in conversation with
Marc Boothe heads up B3Media, a creative arts network that supports BAME emerging artists, filmmakers and digital storytellers. John Simmons is a writer and co-founder of 26. John and Marc have known each other as occasional collaborators and constant friends for 15 years.
Note 1: March-May
Marc had been in Asia in January – already a sense that something bad was coming. His wife, NHS worker, bought bags of facemasks in a market – they’ve been wearing them for years in Asia, pre-Covid, anticipating another pandemic. The West is late to understanding.
So he wasn’t surprised, except by the speed.
Marc is Brixton resident. Three weeks after the lockdown, he has been taking the chance to ask questions of himself and reassess. We have to take seriously that pandemics will return. Rethink what we do – nature, air quality, food, the way everything is connected.
Be kinder. Don’t go back to the old normal. Find the energy that creates a community – now you walk down closed-down high streets, the energy is lost. Tackle inequalities, particularly the disproportionate effect of Covid cases in the BAME community. Everyone is affected, exposing issues swept under the carpet for decades. Impossible now for government to ignore.
Note 2: May-July
Lockdown life takes a new twist. A tough few weeks: mortality the central theme. Three reasons: recent reports suggesting that British BAME Covid-19 death rate ‘more than twice that of whites’; the untimely passing away of a friend, a gifted artist aged 47, due to Covid-19 complications; and George Floyd who died because ‘I can’t breathe’ with a police officer’s knee on his neck.
The video of his final minutes, as he screamed “Mama”, resonated on so many levels. It was devastating; I’m still in shock, saddened, and angry. This one event which started in Minneapolis is a game-changer. The footage of protests and calls for justice and change, by protesters black and white, locally and globally, show the scale at which issues of race, identity and equality can no longer be glossed over. The issues connect the streets of America to the rest of the world, including society here with our unjust mortality rates for black people.
Toni Morrison’s words connect: “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal.”
Note 3: May-July
Lockdown has changed our lives. What’s ‘normal’? – it’s gone. We have an opportunity to reflect, recharge, reconnect with ourselves. For me this means reflecting on ways of coping with anxieties about the future.
My sense of time has shifted. Slowed down. My usual impatience replaced by more time to explore and reflect – a greater awareness of time and an acceptance that whatever the future holds, it will be OK. Stoic. Amor fati, loving fate.
By slowing and simplifying things, there’s clarity, intuition and gratitude. A chance to rediscover our true selves, seek inner peace, find the true meaning of life – once we understand who we really are.
The desperate push-pull to complete projects, that’s gone.
Stoics loved the metaphor of fire. Marcus Aurelius wrote “a blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything thrown into it.”
Life goes on. I lost a friend, a gifted artist, to COVID. My father suffers from dementia that’s becoming worse. Inevitably you become fearful on his behalf, there are responsibilities and difficult conversations with carers.
For many, life will return to normal; but other lives will fundamentally change forever. One thing is sure, this is a year of change.
Note 4: July-August
“It’s given me space and time to reflect beyond the usual pressures of work, to go outside my own creative practice and reconnect with the spirit I had when I started out. The power of the pause – it creates fresh energy, a different energy to provide balance.
I’ve enjoyed the shared solidarity of the situation – we’re all getting through uncertainties. There’s a sense of optimism, of fragility balanced with empathy. Of course there are concerns but people have become less afraid to show vulnerabilities. We will get through it, will hold it together, will figure it out.
I miss the social interaction we once took for granted. Listening, connecting, not worrying about social distancing. Working with artists over time, there’s a physical closeness that you can’t match virtually. But we are addressing the question: How do you create that shared space in separation?
So I take each day as it comes. Check in with friends, connect with family, decide what matters most today; the work nourishes. I feel a sense of gratitude. Each day’s a gift, what are you going to do with it?