How did I cope with the Pandemic as an artist?
I became anxious, stressed and unsettled. I had a very hard time working in my studio. I struggled with what my purpose was on planet earth, again. I had a very hard time with the steady count of people dying all over the world. I got really upset about the 2020 election, fearing the loss of decency and democracy crumbling in front of my eyes. I wanted to help but struggled to figure out what I could do that could make a difference.
I felt physically sick to my stomach much of the time when I would watch the news, so I decided I should stop watching so much news. I decided it was too much of a risk to continue my exercise routine at a local gym, so I put my membership on hold and stopped going, for two years. I switched to walking my dog in the forest, which was a nice change from the gym, but much of my stretching, weightlifting and cardio workouts disappeared. I told myself that walking hills was a good cardio workout, so I included the San Francisco hill into my daily route; my dog quickly got bored with that. So, my dog and I went to the forest and kept on walking through the woods, looking for less water, less mud, more light, more buds, more signs that nature would soothe me somehow during a horrific time on the planet. When the numbers started to come down and I had gotten my second vaccination, I decided to return to my yoga practice in person. That turned out to be short lived with the new variants appearing and masking becoming politicized rather than a public health solution. I began to have issues with my sleep waking up frequently during the night. I was also having bizarre dreams that included airplanes crashing, narratives being out of control and stressful situations going on and on and on. I started to breathe differently, taking shorter breaths, not really filling my lungs up fully, not even being aware that I had shifted to shallow breathing. I struggle with depression, so after the first year of the pandemic, I increased my antidepressant dose from 20mg to 30mg. This pushed the dark clouds back out of my head and allowed me to carry on through the first year.
One of the ways to cope with stress is to feed yourself or others delicious comforting foods. Another way to cope with stress is to turn TO food FOR comfort. I did some of both. I NEEDED TO BAKE, A LOT. It seemed like the only thing that made me feel better on a regular basis. I wanted something warm and gooey, filled with sugar to put in my mouth and place in someone’s hands, still warm. My kitchen turned into my creative space where I felt I could make some kind of tangible difference in my friends and family’s life. A loaf of bread, a pot of soup, a salad, a pie, or some cookies could put a smile on my face and theirs.
The Presidential election loomed large for November 2020. The highly contested states where the elections would be absolutely critical became a huge concern for me. A friend in Tacoma told me about a postcard writing campaign so I contacted the organization and began asking my friends and family to join me to reach out across the country with a pen and a postcard to remind others to vote. Suddenly I felt I was doing something of worth and applying my energies to a greater whole, beyond myself. (How can working in my studio, painting and drawing not serve a greater whole?). I had found something that energized my spirit and soul the same way making art has. So, I colored and wrote and addressed people I didn’t even know in Georgia, Alabama, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Something was reignited for me, and I felt connected again. Then election night came, and it was like a new ball of shit was hitting the fan. And I felt sick all over.
Getting through the January attack on the United States Capitol was not how any of us wanted to start the New Year, but there it was. It seemed like humanity had really gone nuts after a year of sheltering in place, and my horror and disgust couldn’t be baked away. The news media plastered it all over every device one could look or hear while the death toll continued to rise. One evening I was watching a special report on the PBS News Hour and one of the doctors was explaining the massive losses the world was dealing with; the enormity of grief that humanity was trying to cope with. I remember writing down something he said – “we will need places to mourn”. I kept looking at those words and decided that I would construct that very place for my community.
THE MAKER STARTS MAKING AGAIN
Where do I start again, now what do I do? How do I cope with the grief I am feeling and how can I create something that could be supportive to my community? I lost my first husband in 2004 when he suddenly died of a heart attack. It was the most tragic and devasting event I had experienced in my adult life; I was 48 years old. On the one-year anniversary of his death, I chose to fill the hollow of a cedar tree in a local park with fresh flowers, memorializing him. It was 3 feet wide and 10 feet tall. Friends and family joined for the remembering, and a boombox blasted out into the forest “It’s Another Tequila Sunrise” by the Eagles. I realize in hindsight that this was a significant activity for me to engage myself in honoring my own grief. When we entered the second year of the pandemic, it became very apparent to me that this would be soothing not only for myself but for my community. I spoke to a neighbor and decided to make “A Place to Mourn” on Memorial Day, 2021.
A PLACE TO MOURN
Olympia has offered so much gratitude in response to my installation in the NE Neighborhood. I am extremely grateful and honored for all of the meaningful replies and support given to this project. The outpouring of feelings, remembrances and honesty is very moving and offers a clear marker for hope. The stone is wrapped in live flowers and will stay up as long as the flowers and the site are needed. The freshness may only last 8 – 10 days, but we shall see. I am moved by the journal entries that have been made and I look forward to reading them out loud to acknowledge our collective losses. I am lighting tea candles every evening at the site around dusk. If you would like to join me and other community members to see this piece glow, please stop by. It’s here to offer some refuge as we continue to navigate these challenging times.