PICTORIAL STORY

February 25, 2020

DOMESTIC WASTELAND

Photography by Vin Sharma Timon
Words by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

The urban spaces of New York City changed significantly during the Global Pandemic. Sidewalks once filled with pedestrians not afraid to knock elbows with a friendly smile, became vacant solitary spaces where distance was mandated and the masked smile became the ‘New Normal’. As spaces once open for public use began to close, more restrictions were imposed and city dwellers had to adapt to these changes. Everyone deals with change in different ways, some finding it more challenging than others.

For Vin Sharma Timon, one particular day marks the beginning of her photographic documentary ‘Domestic Wasteland’. An authentic portrait of a family and their personal journey. It is a visual diary of the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, they shared, and how that strains the best of relationships. Vin depicts with complete candor the emotions and feelings her family confronted and had to learn to manage in new and difficult times of uncertainty.

I asked Vin to paint a picture of what it was like at home prior to the restrictions and confinement of the Pandemic. What was the ‘New Normal’? What was a day in the life of the Sharma-Timon family like on any given day before the pandemic.

“I often wonder what the norm was before the pandemic. Or if there is such a thing.

Sometimes we feel like your typical Brooklyn family. We have a pet, we walk everywhere we need to go. We are a mixed race family and we encourage our children to be open. Normally, we stop to chat with our neighbors and are thankful for the local bodega. We have books in every room, we have a quaint stoop for outdoor people watching. We dance in our kitchen and manage to share our evening meals together.”

Vin may have had trouble describing ‘Normal’, but she easily depicted what was normal and what was not! Sometimes this is the best way to understand change.

“I know what the norm was not. Before the pandemic, It was not dreading getting out of bed every morning. It was not crying late at night with an empty bottle of wine (or two) in a bathroom with the lights turned off. It was not binge watching reality shows on a Monday evening, ordering cases of evaporated milk and toilet paper. The norm was not wiping down groceries (I did this) and ordering 50lb bags of flour because suddenly, I became a bread maker. In the last 23 months, I have baked bread twice and refuse to discuss sourdough starters. Though I still dance in my kitchen with my children.”

Vin found one change in their living patterns and daily routines and customs to be perhaps the most profound. Once real connections were made with physicality, playing, hugging, touching. These connections are now made virtually, where an image on a screen replaces the hug, and is the hand you hold.

For Vin, “The norm before the pandemic was not being separated from extended family members, unable to visit them, unable to grieve with them. Suddenly, our local friends and our neighbors became a lifeline.” Vin remembers this day, “March 16th, 2020, was the day I began documenting life at home with my family. NYC schools officially closed their doors due to the global pandemic and our lives were hurled into an abyss of madness. Lockdown, shelter in place, quarantine, remote learning - these became commonplace concepts in an ocean of uncertainty.”

These new daily living adjustments are not small and insignificant, but require much patience and diligence to practice. A family must find the resources to help establish new processes and routines. Combine this with different personalities and the dynamics of relationships between family members, it can create an atmosphere of frustration, and agitation leading to discontent.

Vin shares with us her genuine experience and thoughts during this time. “Sometimes, I don't like my family. Mostly I love them, even admire them. We are a group of four who have become so intertwined in a very complex way during the last 33 months. What has happened during this time? Need I ask? The pandemic paved the way for puppies, plants, kitchen gadgets and a complete loss of self. I have become so wrapped up in the lives of my family, that I no longer understand where I fit in. I observe, I record. Yet I am not in the frame. My perceptions are there, stamped on every single moment, but the visual sense of 'me' is absent, except in the way I perceive the people closest to me.”

Vin’s story investigates feeling lost and alone even when surrounded by people. Like a super colony, it is hard to move or think independently. For every action, a reaction. Like a pebble cast in water, the ripples spread far and wide, affecting far more than the spot it dropped. Loneliness can be experienced in many different ways as Vin describes the beginning of her day.

“Waking up, placing our feet on the ground and beginning the walk that leads us to the day is no longer a mundane routine. It is a feat of greatness, an act of courage. Anything more than that is a bonus.”

Vin shares her honest opinion, thoughts that are not always nice, but unavoidable when confronted with the intricacies and complexities of ‘Shelter in place’. “It cannot be normal to live with the same humans every minute of every day, every week, every month, every year. With little relief. I am so tired. We are all so tired. Yet, within the uncertainty, there is a deep appreciation for life and for contemplation.”

Another huge adjustment Vin and her family had to make was remote learning, new home schoolers. Confronted with a new set of challenges, their home became their new schoolhouse. “Our entire apartment functioned as a school room. Literally, Brooklyn apartments do not always offer families the generosity of indoor space. I have seen our bathroom floor serve as a reading space, wiped the kitchen table down after a science experiment, seen my 12 year old check in for attendance from the comfort of his bed. I’ve watched my 9 year old, lying face down on the floor with an open laptop, her camera off while eating lollipops for breakfast. Welcome to pandemic schooling.”

Roles in the family changed, one day Vin was a mother, the next day she was a teacher. Her children were just siblings, playing and quarreling like siblings often do, until the school day began and then they became classmates. This brought new complexities and challenges for her two young children. Vin tells us what it was like for her, and her children transitioning between roles.

“Becoming a teacher and managing remote learning was a disaster. ‘Shitshow’ is the word that comes to mind. The constant questions of ‘when can we meet for a zoom call’? became tedious. Sure, anytime is a good time because everytime is a bad time. No certainty of schedule, no idea about how many apps would be required in order to read a single day’s homework, no clue as to how to connect with peers. No one hated remote learning more than parents and guardians who stayed at home with their little people, all day, every day. As classmates, my children were either embracing each other or screaming at the top of their lungs. We did our best to give them space and a chance to take a break when they needed to. Who knows what the long term effects of remote school are.”

In the middle of the chaos, there is the rock, the sound of reason. When everything is going wrong, there is always one person that stands in front of the fan, catching all the debris. This was her husband’s role. For Vin and her family, he was the person they relied on to keep the peace, to mend any fences, and to be the voice of reason in a time that seemed to have none.

“My husband’s role was honestly much the same as it always was - a source of support, a foundation. He really does insist that he carried on much the same way as before the pandemic. Interestingly enough, I agree with him. The only major change was that we somehow reconnected. We had begun to rely on our own separate schedules before the pandemic, busy with our own activities - him with his work and, oftentimes, me with the children. The pandemic offered a change to that, as well as presenting us with a challenge. For the first time since our first child was born, we were thrust together in close quarters. It has been a simple connection that we somehow lost along the way.”

Life changed for Vin and her family, but these changes brought some unexpected connections. The table has become an important place for the family during the pandemic. Vin and her family now share their table embracing the importance of this simple but intimate gesture, of sharing food, nourishment, and family conversations.

Vin talks about the ‘value of silence and reflection’. I asked Vin how this applies to their time together during confinement. What did Vin and her family learn, what was their take away as a family?

“Before the pandemic, we were always busy. There was always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to talk to. Now, that value of silence and reflection has become meaningful, not to mention essential. Particularly when it’s applied to our sense of well being. What was once taken for granted is now sought after - moments of quiet, time to sit and read a book or pick up a real newspaper, time to enjoy nothing but being present. Taking the time to accept the value of being alone at times. In terms of how this all applies to our time together as a family, it’s allowed us to trust each other. It’s given us time to allow for individual space, to respect personal boundaries and to help each other without having to speak. An embrace, a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the hand - I have learned how wonderful and heartfelt these gestures can be and how much more important they are now.”

What is the reflection that helps them move forward?

“We move forward as we have been the last two years - one day at a time. Doing our best not to rush, not to worry. Which of course, is nearly impossible when you are living through a pandemic. Most of all, I am confident in accepting that we need each other. I need the people I love. My family needs me. We are connected and that connection extends to friends who I miss terribly. I miss the kisses on soft cheeks, I miss the warmth of my friend’s arms and the sound of their laughter in my ears. We move forward with the promise that new kisses, new embraces and new found laughter will be waiting for us. As the story continues to unfold, I find myself holding on to a tremendous love of life and all that we hold dear. What was once mundane is now a point of interest. What we took for granted is now in the spotlight. This is an unraveling of our collective domestic wasteland.”

Life continues, and so will the Sharma-Timon’s stories. The obstacles along the way will be hurdled and they all will cross the finish line one day. For the Sharma-Timon family, it is the journey that will create the landscapes of their future, and make the connections that will last a lifetime.

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