During the distress of pandemic, political unrest, and grievous social injustices, we sought to inspire each other while isolated at home.
Margaret initiated a proposal: would Sharon paint an image while Margaret wrote a poem about something each considered a comfort or safe harbor? Might we then exchange the two pieces for response: a poem for the painting, and a painting for the poem?
Our first pieces confirmed our affinity as we had both gravitated to the natural world as refuge. Sharon had painted a tree’s canopy; Margaret wrote a poem about a bird’s nest.
We went on to explore a range of sheltering things from the built world, such as house, hut, and porch, as well as whimsical or metaphoric shelters, such as art, books, and a hug.
Margaret realized that what we were doing might speak to many people who, like us, were seeking refuge and solace during the pandemic. Once the book was published, it gained a life of its own. We are experiencing a widening circle of joy and gratification through book events, readings, and people who receive solace from the project. Through our collaboration, we have grown in gratitude for beloved people and things where shelter is sought and found.
As much of the world stands still and temperatures move us inside, hunkered down and waiting, I am grateful for the simple routines that structure the day. Steeping tea in the dark morning hours. Watching the sun rise and set from the warmth of my up-on-a-hill house. Discovering an unfamiliar grocery store. The aromatic explosion of the evening meal’s spices as they sizzle in the oil of a cast iron skillet. The way a jasmine plant, brought inside for winter, stands out against a white wall. A portrait I painted of an admired musician anchored behind it; the yellow, the green, the white, together like a garden’s promise of perennial renewal.
I released my third studio record, “Cut Flowers,” in early October. With no gigs to promote it, I am making videos of several of its songs using my cheap Android phone. Creating in new ways inspires me. So do the old family photos I dig through in hopes of finding one to replicate on an empty canvas. Listening to old records in my basement. Discovering new music on my daily walks. And dreaming of other places — places of hope, beauty, and vibrant culture, places away from the clutter and sounds of our technology-centered world, where new ideas, fresh thoughts, and new routines could be established.
I have found joy and inspiration in the power of positivity. Growing up, my parents challenged my siblings and me to always find something good in tough situations. Having an optimistic outlook on life helped shape who I am. Now I remind myself that “every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day.”
At the start of 2020, my husband decided to divorce me and left. My new challenges encompass quarantine, unemployment, and being a single mom. It can be easy to run with negativity and allow irksome feelings to move into and crowd my “space.” In the winter months, negativity coupled with the world crisis can be stressful, heavy, and lonely. I did not want that for my life, my son, or my family.
With the pandemic, I became intentional about planning my daily and weekly schedules. My son and I have dress-up days, arts and crafts, trying new recipes, and spontaneous dance parties. I find joy in being able to be in the yard to get fresh air and am creatively utilizing all areas in my home so we are not confined to one space all day. I find there is something “good” in each day.
A new smile was on my face in late in 2020 as I took the last steps of separation from a stale and soulless marriage and a business endeavor that had also seen brighter days. Recently, I rounded out eight years in recovery. The new design for living that I have learned is inspired by the peaceful easiness of the average day and spontaneous bursts of joy felt in the whole body. So much of me had been dulled by substances for so long. I now feel embodied in the groundedness of my feet on the earth, the helping of others with my hands, the beat of love in my heart, and both the stillness and vitality that comes from dance, belly-laughter, sex, yoga, play, and sports. I feel alive and fully accessible again. I am grateful for the inspirations that come from a higher power — which I think of as “perfect justice” — carried to me by wonderful people and community and also sometimes by the wind.
As the days get shorter and COVID case counts get higher, I have been combining my stress management strategies with my nature photography practices in new ways. To give myself a manageable focus, I came up with MEMRES (memories), a photographic ritual for getting outside and making images when feeling less than inspired.
When I know I really need to get outside, but my energy is dragging or I try to convince myself it’s too cold, I use MEMRES to revive my energy and get bundled up. This ritual helps me experience joy and reconnect to the present moment, which has proven to be helpful for both the instability and the monotony of winter during a pandemic.
After 28 years of marriage I find myself living alone. I’m surprised that I don’t mind it. I am weary of the isolation that has come with COVID, but can I be honest without being arrogant? I have found great solace in my own company. I see people walking down the streets and have a mind conversation with myself about it. I wonder how the three-legged dog balances so well or what the man was thinking when he chose to wear shorts and sandals on a below zero day. I laugh a lot. I sit still a little more. I have imaginary chats with friends I can’t visit and I am so witty and wise. I will be thrilled when this is over but for now I’ve got my mind and it’s good company.
The hard times kept coming. March of 2019, the pandemic picked up speed slowly, then barreled down on us as the seasons changed. We bought masks. Last spring we told ourselves that at least we could be outside, smell the coming warmth, work on our gardens, take walks, ride bikes, sit in the fresh air at coffee shops and restaurants with friends, have socially distanced gatherings in parks — before that too became dangerous. We bought more masks, wore them into stores, kept an extra in our cars lest we leave home without one. We waited for it to be all over.
Last summer we marched against brutality and racism — it is easier to march in the warmth. The fall brought snow and a taste of what comes every Minnesota winter — our retreat inside. But in our COVID-19 times there were no nights out at the movies, no parties, no meetings for fun or work. Only the news of rising numbers of disease and death. We made more masks. We stayed home.
I had no idea what isolation felt like. I just knew that the word conjured fear. Being alone at home is one thing. Being alone without seeing any other person was something else. Even in our Minnesota winters we saw each other’s faces, we smiled, stopped for a quick word or two before trudging through the snow to our cars. We saw faces. This winter we saw only eyes.
If you are creative, you probably filled the time — so many things to design, paint, build, sew, knit, sculpt, weave. Write an aria or a novel. Make that greenhouse in the backyard a reality. Finally take down that hideous light fixture, and while you are at it paint the whole room — yes!
For me, I am left with what I thought I always wanted — all the time in the world to read all the books I want and to watch every movie I can stream. But the time is enforced, not time I choose to spend this way. It is simply all there is. I am sad, angry, undone, wanting to crawl under the bed and come out when the all clear sounds. But I know that I cannot let my connections with others wither. I need connections with people I love, and it is on me to make sure those connections stay vital and constant. It is on us. Otherwise, the weight of isolation will insure inertia — everything becomes too much, or not enough.
My way out? I make myself send texts, photos (of snow laden trees outside my windows, my messy desk, of anything!). I comment on friend’s Facebook posts and I post my own. Most of all, I make phone calls. For a person who hates talking on the phone, this is a really tough one.
I AM sad and tired, angry, and undone. I want “normal” back. If I can bestir myself to make a call, the isolation eases. I reach for the stability that fights against the isolation. This is not the time for any of us to lose the connections we have.
COVID-19 came as a shock. My first inkling that something drastic was occurring was a phone call from my New York-based physician son urging me to not let anyone enter my condo — to not have any guests over for cocktails, as I often do. I asked him why. His answer: “They will breathe on you.”
The initial isolation from leaving home less frequently, deserted streets, being unable to meet with friends and family face-to-face was a shock to my highly extroverted system.
During other challenging times, writing small books has helped me get through the trauma. On a mid-March morning, I participated in a Zoom support meeting sponsored by the Saint Paul Jewish Community Center. Participants were women of a certain age nationwide. The topic was about gaining resilience, or ‘how we were all getting through pandemic 2020.’
I told the group my first two acts had been to get a bird feeder and set up weekly Zoom meetings with a personal fitness trainer.
Every morning I had my coffee with the birds on my deck. For Christmas, a friend gave me a heart-shaped block of bird seeds. The birds happily sit on the block and eat the seeds.
Christmas was a challenging time, with friends and family living far from Minnesota. I decided that this was the time to decorate our building for the holidays. With the help of neighbors we decorated our building especially festively. My children came through with phone calls, Christmas flowers, and creative Zoom calls.
When the small parks near my home in the Summit Hill area of Saint Paul were attracting too many people for my social distance comfort level, I sought out other open spaces for outings with my two cockapoos. We are fortunate in the Twin Cities to have many lovely dog parks that are heavily wooded. A favorite of mine is Arkwright dog park on the East side of Saint Paul. The dogs run gleefully free in a natural setting.
The Japanese advocate “forest bathing,” loosely interpreted as the restful rejuvenation of spending time in natural settings. My outings to nearby dog parks and other open spaces are my form of urban “forest bathing.”
I had previously received a gift of gloriously scented hand soap and have been using that to wash my hands multiple times per day. The hand soap fills the air with an uplifting aroma. When I thanked the sender for how much her gift added to my day during this trying period she said,” It is all about finding little pockets of joy!“