Cover Photo: The Downside of Upside-Down by Gaya Khmoyan

The Downside of Upside-Down

June cover of The New Yorker had a sketch illustration of a city street, crayon-like colored buildings, a few sidewalks, a bike delivery guy and a pedestrian, both wearing masks, silhouettes of people in windows during various activities, and it was all upside down. Even without flipping it around, it was clear what I was looking at. An uneasy thought landed between my beer and my computer screen like a true Texas fly, unrelenting and unkillable: this is our new normal. Just like the cover image, our life, our reality, now turned on its head: readable and understandable. I stared at the bottom of the page, at the illustrated rooftops, the downside of upside-down.

What is a product of a problem multiplied by a problem? Well, a morbid math question, for one. Also, quite possibly the year 2020. Everything is just difficult. Searching for a more literary word seems pointless. Difficult is a multi-faceted word, inclusive.

As I thought of my home theatre and my favorite bar, what became strangely clear is that it is not about the physical places themselves. I have been misplaced (and misplaced myself) out of all sorts of physical locations over the years. From being an immigrant, to simply moving around for (and from) people, it became less about an actual topography or architectural make up of my surroundings. I think it also may be true for those who remain much stiller in life than I have been.

One’s favorite bar is less about the actual building, although the sounds of the jukebox and woodgrain-green darkness are easily missed. It’s about opening those glass doors to happy memories, to re-inhabiting moments, laughter, tears. It is a portal to shedding layers of daily, monthly, or even life long burdens, even if for a moment. It is a place made out of people who you can be yourself around. Maybe even alone, but not lonely. His stool, their corner, her table.

Places like theaters and bars sit in their ghostliness, shells of their past selves, echoing loudly through our days. Bound by predictably of our human make up, we could not sit still So, I think we found freedom within our confinement.

I think we are free to see a bit clearer the parts which make up the whole. The faces and voices that we may have numbed out to in person from too much exposure, now draw our attention. We write more, taking time to think before letting words just fall out. We reach out more often, not relying on in-person chance encounters. We remember that our favorite bars, theaters, and businesses are puzzles made out of those that we know, care about and love. And even if they’re made out of strangers, the human tapestry of “the whole” is quite unique, and it feels like we’re seeing it for the first time. It’s as if we are learning to see every stitch in our favorite scarf, realizing that even if one or two loops disappear, it may unravel the whole thing.

I don’t mean that we should look for the meaning of life in other people, but maybe other people are the parts of the whole, sometimes over looked, needing each other to give meaning.

All I’m saying is, when you look at the downside of an upside-down image, it becomes upright again.