Connection and isolation: finding a community in isolating times

by Ella Luo

2020 was a year of deep reflection for me. I imagine this isn’t unique, for obvious reasons.


The questions and observations I had during lockdown 1.0 and beyond have verged between the mundane and frenzied. Thinking up 3 meals a day at home went from exciting and inventive to downright resentful. I am convinced my memory and sense of time have been permanently warped by this year.

I questioned what my hobbies and pastimes really were since I couldn’t do them anymore, at least not in the same way. What did I actually care about in life? Who did I care about in life? What did I want to do with my one life on this burning, chaotic planet? I raged – raged against the constant incompetent decision-making of this government. I counted myself lucky to live in a beautiful part of the country, where I could go on walks and enjoy being outside. I also cried wondering when I would see my family again. 

So yeah, it’s been a real mood

As we hurtle towards the end of this cursed year and we are spat out into a new one, I think of the steps I have taken to keep myself connected in a world that feels more and more isolating. My immediate connections are my family, and thus my Chinese roots. I am British born Chinese (affectionately known as BBC in the Chinese community). Speaking in Cantonese is as if I’m walking down a street and I suddenly forget how to use my body, and I have to use a hand to walk because I don’t remember how to move my leg. It’s self-conscious, awkward, and the knowledge is on the tip of my tongue but it’s also not there. I keep trying though, and even more so this year.

The word ‘relationship’ in Chinese is 關係 (pronounced ‘gwaan hai’). When I was writing this piece, I looked up the meaning of the script:

關 has the character for ‘door’: 門

係 has the character for ‘person’: 人. It also has this character: 系, which can mean lots of different things. It’s the verb ‘to tie’, or ‘to fasten’, but it can mean the noun ‘line’ or ‘connection’ as well.

So, if you think about it, the word relationship written in Chinese means the crossing of a threshold – a door – to another person, to form a new connection.

This year has forced everyone in invigorating, difficult, and often painful ways, to deeply reflect on who they are, and what it means to be who they are in a society that can feel unjust and cruel. For others, it might have been learning new skills on Zoom, continuing their projects and workloads in new ways, or finding new projects that before COVID-19 such opportunities were too few and far between. For me, one of the ways I reflected was by confronting my heritage. I stumbled through the door, hands for legs, and kept moving forward in this brave new world. 

Brave New World is actually one of my favourite books. I think about it a lot these days, especially something the main character says: ‘I’m claiming the right to be unhappy’. I miss the beauty of spontaneous moments. I crave loud, colourful, busy places like gigs, cafes, parties, and places where you could laugh together with strangers. I miss eating out with friends. We can still yearn for those days. In isolating times, finding a community is difficult, but it’s also all the more reason to take risks. Nourish your connections and relationships. Call old friends and ask how they are. Join that class, action that idea, and take that step you’ve always wanted to take but never found the chance. Last year I would never have imagined I would be sharing my writing for people to read. God forbid anyone saw my art.  This zine would never have happened without the pandemic forcing us in The Fold to take risks.

Welcome risk.

Go through the door.

Artist website:
Instagram: @ellahtluo

Illustrations by Kate Costigan
Instagram: @kate_costigan