Last year, my cousin Lauren visited me in Brooklyn. I showed her my apartment, and we laughed about my messy bedroom and its chaos of sheets and pillows. Then she got serious and said, “I make my bed every morning. I do it for my future self.”
I admired her daily ritual, and then forgot about it. Now I understand it as an act of faith.
I am writing this column in early April. You won’t read it until July; Communication Arts, which comes out in print as well as online, has a long lead time for its writers. Normally, I expect the world to be much the same three months after I finish my column. But we are in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these 800 words will be released into a world I can’t know. I must trust that you will be there to read them.
I’m writing to a future you. It’s an act of faith.
The news forces time into fragmented segments. We ricochet from expectations for today and next week to predictions for next month and next year. My personal anxiety is focused on the gray period we will face as July approaches. Now, in April, life is black and white. I know what I can and cannot do: The answer to any question is almost always No. No, I cannot go to my studio. No, I cannot take the subway. No, I cannot go to a café. There are clear directives, and so I stay in the lull of limbo and do as I’m told. Gladly. Meticulously.
But in a few months, if all goes as predicted, I will need to make choices about resuming my “normal” life—the activities I love and miss today. Will I stroll across Sheep Meadow in Central Park? Will I meet with friends at Blue Sky café? Will I go to my studio?
Part of my apprehension is how I will react to the less-than-reliable “facts” about the continuing danger of contracting the virus. I tend to be germophobic in the best of times. Will I refuse to come out of hibernation, like a sailboat that has been vacuum sealed in white plastic for the winter?
Then there is my angst about my art making. During these weeks of self-imposed isolation, I don’t have any of my regular tools, materials or equipment—they are all in my studio, far, far away. When I return, I will reacquaint myself with my playful sculptures—sewn, stuffed fabric pieces that are light and soft, meant to be held and shared. Now I wonder: In the future, will anyone embrace a foreign object that has been touched by a stranger?
As the days roll on, and I obsessively look ahead, I’ve discovered that I can counter my darkness by looking back. With this perspective,
I see the ways in which our normal lives provided the foundations for the strange ones we’re living now.
My friend Paul volunteers at a psychiatric center, working with artists who struggle with mental illness. Paul is a photographer, and during the past two years, has made perceptive portraits of the artists that could only have come from long conversations and mutual trust. Now the place is shuttered, so Paul set up a group video chat. Many of the artists were reticent, but after phone calls and walking through the steps, Paul taught them how to use the app, and they now have daily virtual gatherings. Without those slow and deep years of getting to know one another, this effort might have failed, leaving the camaraderie—and lifeline—to evaporate.
My friend Susan teaches memoir writing. The process of exploring memories is a long one, and her students attend regular workshops to shape their essays and books. Now they are meeting weekly on Zoom. Her students talk about the silver lining: the recognition that even though they are physically apart, the support of their writing can continue in a familiar, safe and productive space.
Before the pandemic, while I worked in my studio, I wrote notes to myself on scraps of paper and stuck them on the wall. “Ideas flow and I follow them.” “Keep playing—trust that it will lead to the right place.” “These shapes are too lumpy. I need better stuffing.”
Like my cousin’s bed-making ritual, these notes were acts of faith: promises that I would be back in the studio the next day to keep working. Now I need to trust that this practice was, and is, my foundation, and that I’ll return to make art that will be at home in a future world.
I ask friends what they expect in three months. Will we be different citizens? Different artists? Different people? Some say we will be changed. Others say we will be the same.
Both answers scare me. Both answers give me hope. ca