2020 – What I learned…

I started 2020 with a journaling class… at the start of the class the instructor asked us to introduce ourselves and say one thing we wanted to do or be this year. My response tickled the shit out of me:

From my recording in my journal: “I’m Heather, I weigh 150 lbs and I’m happy I feel comfortable saying that aloud. In 2020 I want to be more of who I am, turn up the volume a bit.”

This seemed an enlightened and bold proclamation and I was just thrilled to have made it. 2020 heard my confidence and ensured I was in a position where I couldn’t do much but be who I am … because there’s NOTHING ELSE TO FUCKING DO!

In February my eldest child moved out, headed North to start a life up there. Bold and ready and curious and terrified – that describes both of us at this move. She launched into adulthood during Covid. Her first year as an adult has been met with struggle and fear and anger and no hugs. I am inordinately proud of how she has navigated these changes and I want to take a moment and bow my head to every young adult who had to approach their first true independence under the restrictions of a global pandemic. This is a struggle the bulk of us never faced, an additional hurdle to growing up we never had to deal with. Let’s all, just for a moment, acknowledge how absolutely horrific and difficult that is.

In March the quarantine and pandemic that would define much of all our lives in 2020 began in earnest. I was sent away from the office I’d so recently entered (after a decade of working at home) and put RIGHT BACK into working at home. I knew how to do it, I transitioned well, and I felt that I was cursed to work at home forever, with no society and no community groups and no one really ever seeing me. I was not cursed of course. I found most of my people and my society were adapting right along with me … that my connections to the world are not so fragile.

In April, after MONTHS of debate and hurt and struggle I decided to end a relationship that was toxic and filled with deception and sadness and disregard and pain … and light and support and acceptance and wonder. It was awful, and I am SO MUCH better for having walked away from it.

In May my daughter graduated high school, drove down from her home in northern Indiana to sit on the patio with her sister and I. Six feet apart we watched the graduation ceremony on YouTube and ate delivery Chinese and it was beautiful and strange and painful to not be able to give her a hug. I haven’t hugged her since February … I miss it.

In June I had a week off work, I was supposed to be traveling, my youngest was supposed to go to Washington DC for the annual school trip .. we did neither. Instead I worked on six paintings simultaneously and read Stephen King and my life felt simple and small and a little smothering … but also, I started to see that I really was being truly and exactly who I am without the trappings of a physical social existence to maintain. My hair was growing long (both on my head and on my legs), I was drinking less and creating more. I’d set up a studio in my home in my daughter’s old bedroom and the claiming of that physical space was tangible investment in myself as an artist. I am an artist … have been … but I’m feeling it this year in a way I have never felt it before and it is that allocation of space. I validated the importance of my artwork in my life and I feel I am more because of it.

In August I turned 45. I have no partner in this world. I am alone … and I redecorated my basement to make it a place of treadmill bliss, a walking sanctuary where I could work and walk… a desk where I could write or read in a cozy dimness. I did that, alone.. and oh I really felt the power that comes from NOT having a partner. The power of not compromising myself, and the learning that comes from seeing what you do when you do not feel compelled to look for the approval of anyone else.

In September I began work on the COVID Mitigation team at IU and most of the rest of the year is a blur of work and stress and work and stress and work… and yet, in the middle of all that there is SO MUCH creation going on. I’ve finished another three paintings since June and have another four in the works (seven if you could backgrounds just waiting to be filled).

In October I finished ‘The Enormity‘, 250k dots of paint representing deaths in the US due to Covid. It was enormous and painful and the act will ensure I am never able to minimize this time in my mind. I will never be able to gloss over it in my old age. I invested the time to feel those deaths in my own way and they will walk with me forever.

And here there is a substantial blurring … the last months of this year have run together in my memory. Lots of holiday pain and loneliness and quiet despair … all of it mixed with so much sunshine and creation and the magic of normal people stepping up and reaching out and holding the digital hands of strangers as we all begin to really talk about our loneliness and the ‘skin hunger’ we feel for a hug, or a good night kiss, or even to be able to see our neighbors smile again without a mask.

At the start of the quarantine I spent so much time bemoaning the loss of adventure. I would not be able to travel this year. I had ended my relationship and knew I could not date in the middle of a pandemic. I would not smell the air of another hemisphere as I’d hoped. BUT… but, there were adventures! I began to keep track of them. Here’s my list of ‘Adventures during Covid’ I have been tracking on my phone since March.

  • Created a studio for my painting. I feel very official.
  • Realized I didn’t want to be friends with (name redacted for reasons) and ended it poorly but it’s done.
  • Removed ceramic tile for the first time
  • Told my family I would not see them in person and flinched waiting for backlash and judgement that did not come. They accept me.
  • Had my first cupping session
  • Reserved a WHOLE bookstore for an hour of private browsing
  • Worked on six paintings simultaneously 
  • Transferred all HOA financials online – ending a 42 year run of hard copy financials!
  • Refinished a basement
  • Sent an acapella recording of my singing to a friend
  • Hand fed a squirrel
  • Virtually ran the Grand Canyon
  • First kayaking trip!
  • A fan got a tattoo of my work!
  • I made an illusion of iridescence with paint.
  • Someone DREW ME!
  • TWO someone’s drew me!!
  • I published a coloring book
  • Opened my Patreon
  • Posed in the nude for naked artists day!
  • Participated in very first all digital sexual encounter, delightful.
  • Made 250,000 dots of paint
  • Cried at work, people are so awful when they are scared
  • Learned more about Mukbang than I ever wanted to know … most ridiculous Christmas ever.

I am 100% certain I missed things, that there were adventures I forgot to capture, magics I forgot to document in the moment.

So what did I learn this year? … that adventure and experiences and joys and wonder are all around me, even during a pandemic, even under quarantine. And it makes me think how this might be related to the resolution I made at the beginning of 2020, to turn up the volume on being who I am. Perhaps these adventures are all around me simply because I am looking for them. How often do we move through our lives, our day to day, without pausing to see (or pausing to grab) the magics that are swirling under our feet and in the strands of our hair at every moment.

This year has been horrific in so many ways and for so many of us, and yet I do find myself here reflecting on it and realizing how very much I have learned and grown and become more truly and genuinely me in the last nine months. And how very much I enjoy who I am, my struggles and my weight gain and my emotional inconsistencies … I am being forced to live so closely with myself right now and I’m finding I am a lovely flat mate.

I am not going to address what I learned about the US this year. I will not dive in to the incompetence and rage and selfishness and racism and hatred and disregard and poverty (both financial and emotional). I am going to leave this bit here to acknowledge that it exists. I have anger, mountains of it … I have the kind of anger that lights torches, the kind of anger that reminds me I don’t even own a pitchfork. Acknowledged anger is a kind of magic as well. I will not leave it entirely behind.

Like most of you, I wonder what 2021 will hold. I can’t believe we will all simply return to our ‘normal’ lives as though this time never passed. We will all be forever changed. Not only because there are so many people lost, but also because there has been so much seen this year that we might never have seen were it not for the Covid Pandemic. We have had to live with ourselves and our families so closely. We have been scared to buy groceries. We have been furious at all the limitations. We have been drunk with loneliness and a sensation that we might not even be real if no one sees us. How can we not be changed forever? And if, somehow, we are not … I believe it will be a loss. I hope I am changed. I hope I am more than I was before.

Sending you all love and hugs from a great physical distance. May your 2021 treat you with some gentleness and some care.

Love, H

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