This video essay explores making art and the resurfacing of old loves as we connect with each other and ourselves through pandemic isolation. It references the *National Geographic* article "The pandemic is giving people vivid, unusual dreams. Here’s why." by Rebecca Renner published on 4/15/2020 on NationalGeographic dot com.
Exploring the importance of reflecting on who we are before we decide what normal we want, and also some of my own reflections on questions vs. answers in my creative process.
I'm seeing, and reposting, a lot of people's conviction that this pandemic presents us with an opportunity to reconsider normal. Many people are rightly calling for us to assess our moral, economic, and political systems as this COVID-19 plague exposes where we have failed each other and ourselves.
But I'm not seeing a whole lot of suggestions for what the new normal might look like.
Knowing that the normal we have does not work - this is like knowing we need to build a bridge to get across tough landscape. We can know all day long, but without planning, preparing, and building, knowledge won't be enough to get us to the other side.
So. I invite us all to consider: What could we change? We may think of this at any scale and be doing good. It can be: What can I change in myself so that I live more consistently with what I feel is my purpose? Or: What can we change as a household to live in a way that more deeply appreciates what we have and builds on what's important to our family? Or: What collective change would fill the gaps we've seen in our neighborhood, town, state, nation?
We don't have to think of everything at once. We don't have to all work at all scales. And we'll have some ideas that, in the long term, we may let go or replace with others. But if we just know that we need a new normal, and do nothing to prepare one, we will emerge into a more broken version of our old normal, and walk around dissatisfied and disillusioned.
One change that makes sense to me in this moment is an annual Week of Remembrance to keep us connected to all we're learning now about valuing each other, about healing the damage we've done to the planet. It doesn't solve everything. In order for it to work, we'd need to build stronger protections against domestic violence, against the real effects of poverty, against racism. I don't have fixes for all of those things, but if each of us takes the time to start envisioning the specifics of our new normal, perhaps by the time we emerge from this sickness, those solutions, or their beginnings, will emerge, too.
Think on them. Write them out. Be specific.
An Annual Week of Remembrance
In the quiet, we resign ourselves to our houses. We park the cars, shut down the factories, and walk inside for our Week of Remembrance.
In this week, we do not drive to restaurants. We do not manufacture toys or go to salons or fight legal battles.
We remember what we lost, and what we gained. We play board games and binge Netflix with our children, fully aware of how fragile they are, how lucky we are to have them, and they to have us. We mourn our dead - those who passed alone, those we could not gather to remember for fear we'd be struck down next. We take walks and cry and have happy hours with friends on our computer monitors.
We let the earth rest.
We give her a week of clear skies, and she gives us views of the Himalayas, hordes of sea turtle eggs on the beach.
We breathe and let breathe, knowing what a gift it is to have lungs that open and to fill them with air that's safe. We thank our Gods and hold them to account, and humble ourselves, and hold ourselves to account. We rest. We remember. We look the heaviness, the weariness in the face, and let it melt under a wizened sun.
I am planting. I've added golden dewdrops (the flowers are purple - go figure), purslane, Texas sage (not edible), to the back yard. Really, it's just a patio, but it's open to a large green space with a view of trees and the dilapidated golf course that stretches through my neighborhood. In the front, I've decided I'm up for a challenge, and planted gardenias. My husband's grandmother used to grow them, and he misses the smell. He lost his eyesight in 2016, so there's some significance to this. I also added an orchid because my friend Dawn says they're ridiculously easy, and I want something pretty out there if it turns out I'm not ready to level up to the high demands of gardenia bushes.
I am planting. I started teaching screenwriting in December, and so I am writing screenplays now. Short ones. I've written a few scripts before, but now I need to pull them into my wheelhouse rather than treating them as side adventures. Over the past three weeks, I collaborated with a colleague to write an 8-page script that we hope the film department will produce for the festival circuit. I am sending out my most polished novel to agents, and I am writing short things - poems, flash, threads of story for a novel with an ensemble cast.
The soil is fertile now, but it's been a long winter for us - three years of increasingly fallow living as we journeyed through my husband's illness. He has Type 2 diabetes, and a year after losing his eyesight, he lost his kidney function. Everything extra fell away from our lives, along with some of the essentials.
Our weekend adventures - we used to take meandering road trips.
Living in our downtown home - we have moved to a suburban townhouse.
My daughter - she moved in with her dad when the stress of living with terminal illness affected her too deeply to stay.
Some losses have measurable value. Others spread their bleeding emptiness through every layer of our being.
In January, we were blessed by a generous friend who gave Felix a kidney. While this hasn't brought back his eyesight, it's stabilized everything else. Felix is healthy and beginning to enjoy cooking and small adventures again. He and my daughter have laughed together a handful of times this year.
Without the 3-7 weekly medical visits involved in kidney failure, or the 30-mile drive (120 miles for two round trips daily) to and from my daughter's magnet school, I am left with time.
And a heap of compost.
Dead things that have collected in my soul over the past three years.
Sometimes, the smell overwhelms me, and I lay in bed and cry at all the loss.
But on good days, I sew handfuls of my decomposed life into the soil, and I write, and I wait for the gardenias to bloom.
After taking a long break from blogging to finish out my time teaching in public school, I'm excited to revive my blog 100 Pots. I'll be adding new posts and reblogging some of my older ones. Here's my very first post, and the origins of my blog title. Enjoy!
A thousand years ago when I was an undergraduate student at New College of Florida, I had a quirky ceramics professor who lived in my backyard. The house I was renting with some other students had a guest house, and one day Bob and his wife showed up and moved in. Bob smoked cigars that gave of a mellow, spicy scent and did not let me into his 3-D design class, but asked me to join his ceramics class. I think it was an olive branch to be neighborly more than anything else. The design class had so much more to do with my work, and so many fewer seats than the ceramics class. I was mad, but, after all, he was my neighbor, so I accepted the invitation.
It turned out to be my most memorable college class. Bob gave his students the key code to the building, and a few of us would be there at all hours of the night. And he would be, too. We'd let the slippery clay spin between our fingers, rising, falling, a meditation. Then, if Bob was there, we'd join him outside for a break while thick cigar smoke fogged the night air between us. We learned how Peter Voulkos would turn a perfect plate and then slice it with wire and patch it back together, leaving messy cracks and sensual textures. We learned about Paul Soldner's collaging clay together until it could be nothing but art, not a craft, not a cup you would drink from or a bowl you would eat from. Their work demanded new esteem for clay. Their work concentrated on the beauty of the flaw.
The beauty of the flaw translates to all art. If a writer writes a perfect character, it better be a villain because nobody wants to root for a perfect person. We love the underdog, the broken, the tragic flaw.
In one of our class meetings, Bob told us about a professor he'd once had. The professor divided the class into two groups. The first group had to make 100 pots. Over the course of a semester that's about seven pots a week. That's a LOT of pots. But the number was the only requirement. The pots could be any size or shape, symmetrical or lumpy, it didn't matter. If they made their hundred, the members of this group would receive A's. The second group had the entire semester to make only one pot. But the pot had to be perfect, flawless, without fingerprint, wabble, variation in wall thickness, or any other mark that a human being had anything to do with it. If they turned in one perfect pot, the members of this group would receive A's.
Guess which group came closest to making the perfect pot?
So I'm writing my first blog post about the phrase that keeps me moving forward with my work when I'm afraid it won't come out perfectly. I hear it in my head, in Bob's lively, round-voweled voice: "100 Pots! 100 Pots!"
They will never be perfect, these words, but the more of them I write, the closer they will get. Bob was right. The ceramics class was exactly what I needed.
Image: Credit. Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Welcome to my blog,