Notes on Blocks

On Earth We Are Briefly Tender

by Karl Rivera

This piece came out of one of our “Are.na Walkthroughs,” during which four people take us through a particular channel and some of the things they’ve collected in it.

[A film still of two people in a field of high wheat with a subtitle that says “both laughing.”]

I joined Are.na about a month and a half after being evacuated from Cape Town, South Africa in Thee March of 2020. “On earth we are briefly tender” was one of my first channels. It’s named after Dr. Ocean Vuong’s debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

The novel’s arc does not prioritize a central guiding conflict. Instead the story works to expand its own world, and in doing so folds time on top of and against itself in order to connect the proverbial dots across generations and socio-cultural milieus.

Through the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s deplorable response, this channel has been a consistent space of refuge — a window into an elsewhere that allows me to (somehow) return to reality refreshed…


As the ripples caused by Covid intensified and reality became more consistently… sharp, I sought media that felt, to me, like the articulation (visually + metaphorically) of what it meant to embody elemental, resolute softness on the precipice of ongoing catastrophe and crisis.


I was a fellow with World Learning in 2019-2020, developing a community building curriculum while traveling with a group of public health student researchers. One of my favorite sessions happened at the midpoint of my first semester, after a tumultuous (!) week. I asked folks to explore, in an illustration, what their perfect day would look like if it was made up of the best parts of a selection of lived yesterdays. Some 2.5 years later, I have pages and pages of my own response to the prompt — finding refuge in the collage of time.


In this reorientation I feel like I’ve moved from the understanding of time as a general organizing measure to a visioning of resonance: a vibration with rhythm. Many of the photographs in this channel signal to me pathways to deeper feeling. As someone who has done their fair share of trust falls (lol), the resurgence of memory this photograph inspires allows me to imagine the possibility of other associated, positive sensations. In this way, I teleport with/in time at will — beyond the facade of backward and forward.


All at once / I remember the glowing / laughing, green hill in Berlin / and it takes me to the warm orange of the cafe near our workspace in Buenos Aires / and i shift into a clink-clinking of glasses and cutlery over the scent of steak / and fire / before I am in Cape Town / heading out to dance myself into bliss / and the feeling connects me to the whispers of / a rushing wind / riding down the streets of Hanoi / feeling the pulse of music behind me and / the hum of possibility everywhere.


“On earth we are briefly tender” is a salve — a reminder to open myself to the possibility of continuous return: to softness; to the tenacity of love + touch; to tenderness — again and again — no matter how brief each instance; regardless of the barriers present.

Karl Rivera is an artist and cultural worker based in NYC.