Burning from the Watchtower

It’s the 22nd of March, 2021.

An old life ends

I find it quite surreal that we began the first lockdown over a year ago. For most of us, the government restrictions and lockdown measures have swept over our lives in waves. If you’re like me—a first year uni undergrad who didn’t take a gap year—you had to isolate from your friends at the end of your senior year, a time we all thought we’d get to spend in a cathartic cascade of quintessential milestones and social thrill (prom, graduation, end-of-year parties, senior trips). We moved online, with distanced learning, for the final moments of high school. We were forced to adapt to an entirely new way of living at an already major turning point in our lives. 

Then, as summer arrived and we grew ever more restless, the numbers seemed to be dropping; the world opened up again, to an extent. Some of us got to travel, see our friends, pretend life had gone back to normal. 

University life begins

Everyone lucky enough to be on campus got carried away in the initial ecstasy of a superfluous social environment. We met new friends, made timeless memories, had novel experiences, and got to re-establish ourselves in a new place. While much of our education remained online, we had a community and lived with other students. While we couldn’t see our professors in person, we still saw our peers in the flesh out of class, and in tutorials. We were living in an environment that made uni still feel real, despite the virtual aspects of the teaching curriculum.


I flew back to Amsterdam for the Christmas break to stay with my family for a month. The plan was to fly back to Edinburgh for the beginning of Semester 2. Two days after I returned to my lookout over the Dutch canals, the Netherlands went into one of its strictest lockdowns. I came back hoping to visit my favorite cafes and restaurants, to see friends and enjoy the ambience of the city. Instead, I would spend the holidays stuck inside my house. 

Meanwhile, in Scotland, things weren’t looking much better. By the time my planned return date came around, between the government advice in Scotland and the policies of the University, flying back seemed both unwise and unfeasible. We pushed my flight out a few weeks, to the beginning of February. Before that date came around, the University had announced it planned to keep all classes online for the remainder of the year. No point in coming back now. At least, that’s the narrative the University was pushing. Academically speaking, at least on a purely mechanical level, it would make no difference for me to be in Amsterdam or Edinburgh. Of course, that misses the nuances of living on campus. I had a group of friends in my accommodation that felt like a family. I wanted to get back to them. I still do. I also began finding it more and more difficult to stay motivated in my coursework. Once divorced from the campus environment and regular interactions with other students, the distance I felt towards my degree grew exponentially.

After a month and a half of living in purgatory, the Uni contacted me, requesting I cancel my accommodation lease if I wanted to save any money on rent. Now, in March, I’m still not sure when I’ll be able to return to my life in Edinburgh. I certainly do not plan on paying 1700 pounds for a 10-day hotel quarantine. 

An inside-out world

In all this time I’ve spent inside my Dutch tower, I continue to gaze out back towards the Northern sun, the hills and the castles, the life I am always craving to return to. There are other things I find myself watching from afar; things we all have been watching and absorbing and responding to since last year. George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, anti-lockdown protest, anti-democracy riots on the Capitol, presidential elections devolving into neo-fascist grabs for power, Italian cities transformed into macabre ghost towns, apocalyptic forest fires in California, power grids failing and families freezing in an iced-over Texas. The list goes on.

I’ve been observing myself—my emotional state—throughout the pandemic, and making notes of how my environment and behaviour is shaping my psyche. As university students and members of Gen Z, we carry the weight of the future on our shoulders. We are a socially and politically engaged generation. Most of my friends have turned Instagram—a platform for social connection and photography—into a platform for political action and social activism. We seek out and are constantly bombarded with news about the world, about the terrible things occurring, things that evoke guilt, despair, hopelessness, anger, fear, anxiety, and depressive thoughts. I see it in myself and my peers and friends; we put so much pressure on ourselves to stay informed, woke, and vocal about all the problems in the world. But how does this affect us emotionally when we are trapped in a stagnant setting?

All day, every day, four walls and a roof. The constant barrage of negative, digital information we are absorbing gets trapped in this enclosure with us, projected onto the environment so that we are living in a virtual world as much as a physical one. And what I’ve found is that after a while, I begin manifesting that environment in myself. I lose grasp on myself and become a passive body, absorbing and reflecting back the signals entering my sphere. We can’t let ourselves become this. We need to stay present and grounded in the real, immediate world that we as individuals inhabit.

I’ve made this video in hopes of others being able to relate to the experiences I’ve expressed through it. I know we have all been through very different challenges this year, but that is the beauty of experimental film; it’s abstractness allows everyone to take away their own unique interpretation. 

Thank you to Ané and Xenia for contributing material from their own lockdown experiences.