If there is but one gift that 2020 brought to our small spinning globe, it is a real understanding of the transient nature of life. We have stood witness as industry and commerce and worship and governance and every aspect of our daily existence stalled. Death came calling too. To date COVID-19, something we had never heard of a short year ago, has extinguished 1.97 million lives: from your family to those in Mexico, from Iran to India, from China to the White House, COVID disrupted our every interaction and halted our every routine. Reflecting on 2020, I shudder to think of how much wine I consumed, how rarely I put on leather shoes to go do something professional, instead how many hours I doom-scrolled, fretted or cried or spent angry. Eager to hold onto our fleeting and magnificent lives despite all the restrictions, we retreated into our homes, and over the ensuing months began to read poetry and fiction again, used our phone to call friends, dreamt outlandishly about the future and recalled our best memories fondly, and even created something like love from that swirling ball of fear and chaos and forced void. We found, as Dickinson so aptly wrote, “Hope” is the thing with feathers.
My father was the first person who asked me to sit quietly in the woods. I was probably eight or nine when we would trudge together beyond the fence and into the patch of forest. I searched his face for a possible reason, but he had already sat himself down on a well-placed log and shut his eyes. A stray bird, the wind, a branch rubbing, and if we were still enough, our own heart, the only sounds for a few minutes. I am certain longer than that would have strained my childhood exuberance back to chatter.
The days are at their shortest right now, so the slanting sun comes upon afternoon fast. Forays into these neighborhood woods are brief but I am reminded to walk them in silence and listen to a bit of nothing for as long as possible. Yesterday the quiet was broken by a stray plane and then a series of gun shots in the far distance. Reminders I am not as far as it may seem. There are always reminders that we share this earth. Birdsong alone tells us this, so I tread with all in mind and return along my own tracks.
Painting, like writing, is a solitary occupation that has filled many of my days in 2020. Still working out in my make-shift garage-studio, now with winter coat and hat and a small heater, my brush touches canvas in rapid strokes. I am on a different type of journey here, one that I don’t plot out, that holds the same mystery as the woods. I rely on instinct or emotion or something I don’t care to name as I reach for another tube of color. I paint until I fall hopelessly in love, until joy swells much like it did on that log with my father. It was he who also brought me into the Frick, up the endless staircases of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, through the courtyards at the Cloisters, and it was in his memory that I waiting in line all afternoon in Florence to stand under Brunelleschi’s dome or on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea at dusk, diving without thought deep into the turquoise. Gifts bubble up from his persistent guidance, an appreciation for all things beautiful, whether crafted by the divine or not, I am reminded of his passion.
I look to 2021 holding large vessels, praying that the year ahead will fill them with more than hope, something akin to promise: for our dying planet, for every hungry or marginalized inhabitant, for the reordering and rebuilding that must come for our children and theirs. The whitewashing of the past must lay where it does, behind us, and a new color scheme be raised, for surly it is time for our spirits to soar. Rose-colored glasses may have felt unrealistic a few years ago, but I’m donning mine proudly as I cross into something newly pinked, even joyous, and leave behind sadness and loss. Instead, I’ll pick up a brush, walk into the deep, lift my eyes toward blue, and let the expansive perception breathe me straight into a happier, more hopeful, New Year.
Do join me dear reader in allowing for a rosy and favorable viewpoint, and tell me, what promises do you make for yourself in 2021? Oh, make them grand. Onward we adventure!
Nine Cent Girl