Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in May 2020
I’ve noticed that hard times give some people a genius for living and a lot of flair for the fun. Like so many of us these days, my only excursions outdoors consist of daily walks. Lately, my neighbors, several of them, have left chalks out by the sidewalks to invite us all to “Write something!” or “Draw something!” I’d already enjoyed some of these efforts, like the funny-faced multicolored animal drawn outside my house, a thought balloon over his head greeting me with a “HELLO”. These message-in-a-bottle style communications range from “We will get through this!” “Stay Safe!” to more philosophical musings like the one I saw yesterday which read: “If I’m clean when I get out of the shower, how does my towel get dirty?”
Fun and Games
People in my neighborhood are also placing teddy bears in their windows facing out toward the streets to create games for children. The parents drive their little ones around and they have a “bear hunt” to see how many they can count from the car. Yesterday was Easter and somehow a neighborhood Easter egg hunt came to life organically. I saw drawings of eggs, again on the sidewalk, also some decorated paper eggs hanging in trees and out of the way places just waiting to be noticed.
Art in Adversity
I can think of two eras during my years when life hit the “pause” button. The first time was right after I finished my undergraduate degree. I was working a third shift job of the dead-end variety, and I hadn’t found my footing in terms of what I was going to do, or who I would become. This went on for about two years. Eventually, even my dreams even took place in nighttime. One thing I did do was paint and read – all the time. I went inside myself, and when I eventually came back to the world I was richer for it. I had a head full of ideas and a studio full of paintings, and I was ready for what came next. The next “pause” was when I left Michigan and came to California. I had resigned from my job and was living on savings for a few months. I took a road trip with my nephew across the United States, and we decided not to make plans and let the trip take as long as it needed to take. We gave ourselves the freedom to be spontaneous. “Let’s take advantage of unstructured time,” I remember telling him. Let’s have a real adventure, he said. We don’t get that very often. That unstructured time was a gift, as uncomfortable and insecure as I was about where I would ultimately find myself.
To say that the last few weeks have been difficult for everyone would be an understatement. The specters of illness, financial hardship, and psychological uncertainty are too real. The truth is that we don’t always expand our possibilities when life is routine, when it’s business as usual. When business gets unusual, self-expression provides us with a kind of evolutionary leap. This is what I’m finding in myself, my neighbors and in the global community during these early months of 2020. What we create for ourselves in our imaginations during this time will help to define the world we will inherit. Van Gogh created paintings to fend off his inner demons, and we are all better for it. The socio-political upheaval of the sixties gave us some of the most meaningful songs ever written. Beethoven composed music after he became deaf, and Monet made some of his greatest paintings when cataracts had compromised his vision. So what is it that we think we can’t accomplish? When do limitations become possibilities? Songs, poems, stories, paintings, films — these are signposts along the roads that map our personal histories and measure out our moments that extend into years.
Living well is its own art, in whatever form that takes. When we exercise our right to be creative beings, we send the message that we are not wholly controlled by a disaster like this virus. Ultimately, creativity is an act of rebellion. We are not defined by our circumstances and through art, we transcend. I’m looking forward to reading the great books that are now in their gestation period, and going to live concerts supporting albums full of songs that are just now being written. I want to see all the paintings being painted, and experience all the ideas being shared. Most of all, I look forward to seeing what we will become.
Sharon Anderson is an artist and writer in southern California. She can be reached at mindtheimage.com