A personal essay by Anupama Kumar on how Odell’s book  how changed her experience of work and writing in the pandemic as it speaks about opting out of the attention economy, and taking time away from distractions. 

One of the most powerful lines in Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy is right in the introduction.

What if, Odell asks, augmented reality simply means putting your phone down?

What if, indeed. Odell’s book reminds us that while the world is structured on having our attention on something all the time – even if it isn’t all our attention, all of the time we’re paying attention, there is perhaps another way to be. We have been heading here for a while. Results Only Work Environments and employment in the gig economy require us to be on our toes and “available” for anything. Time is a valuable resource in today’s world, too valuable to not be spent productively, and certainly too valuable to waste on not allowing our attention out. Odell exhorts us to disconnect, to “opt out” and re-engage with the world on our terms. She cites an instance from her own life, where she began to walk through a park in San Francisco and identify individual birds by their calls. By focusing her attention on the moment, she gained a far deeper understanding of the world around her.

This does not mean a complete disengagement with the world, or retreating into complete solitude like a hermit. To Odell, complete disengagement, and a complete retreat away from the world as we know it is impossible. Instead, she advocates that we step away from a culture that requires that we pay attention all the time – to social media, to technology, to the relentless pursuit of productivity – and instead enjoy the one life we have right now. 

An introduction to the poem by the poet

The poem presents a situation where all around the world people are doing one form or another of counting. Numbers have come into the foreground in our pandemic days. As I was becoming more and more aware of how random numbers began to affect our lives in unexpected ways, I decided to write a poem that would reflect both the despairing  and hopeful feelings oscillating within us with regards to these numbers.

While writing this poem I became very conscious of Tennyson’s melancholy and how his poems often moved from despair to that of faith and hope. I decided I would intersperse the stanzas in my poem with lines from various Tennyson poems to heighten the effect on the numbers and their connotations. I believe the intertextuality in the poems takes the poem to a new dimension.

Noted actress Shabana Azmi, reads a short-story ‘River of No Return‘ written by Tabish Khair.

In words of the author,

“The story she reads out here is a story of violence and despair, but the fact that she found the time to make this brilliant recording is also illustrative of the other side of our human crisis: we are not just prisoners in the cells of our devastation. Not during the pandemic, and not afterward. There are ways to connect. There are ways to organize. There are ways to hope.

Written by 70-year old Mr. Prakash Arke and recited by his actor daughter Rachita Arke, this poem is about where we humans have brought the world to. We took nature for granted and today we are back to basics. Today humans are nothing and nature has taken its due space back. Mr. Arke’s hobby is to write poetry and he has written many but he never published them anywhere. He shared this poem especially for this platform and we are very thankful to him for giving us this soulful prayer of a poem.

mehtaBrian Leung reviews Rahul Mehta’s debut short story collection Quaratine in AAWW

Quarantine is a book one can walk with. I have done so, literally, on the summer-steam streets of Louisville, and again in the dappled light of Bethel, Maine’s asphalt roads and gravel trails. A book that becomes a walking companion is one that isn’t in a rush because, pages in front of your face, rocks and pot holes and road kill in your pathway, you can’t be in a rush either.