An Unexpected Show of Art

The Corona Virus deprivation that hurts most is not seeing my grandchildren. Actually, I do “see” them several times a week on Zoom and FaceTime. I’m giving a “Writing Workshop” to Amelie and Poppy, and beginning today, a Word Workshop to four-year-old Lucien. But I’ve been deprived of their physical presence these past weeks, and I’ve come to realize how I much miss and crave that. I see now that kisses and hugs are not simply icing on the cake, but a welling up of my deepest feelings of love and affection.

Last week, Jonah’s family and Steve and I planned to spend several days at our property in the Anderson Valley. It would be a nice break from the East Bay, we’d be safer (only one case reported so far in Mendocino County), as well as freer to go on long walks in a beautiful setting. And I would see the girls!

When we arrived, we spent time transporting our stock of food into our house, but Amelie and Poppy didn’t run up to greet us. When we had finished putting everything away, instead of trotting down to Jonah’s place, I stayed put. And I quickly felt myself sinking. The air seemed full of absence. Instead of molecules of oxygen floating around me, the atmosphere felt filled with heavy particles of a noxious gas. And the distance between Jonah’s place and ours kept stretching further and further.

We did gather for dinner, each family with its own food, sitting outside, at opposite ends of a ten-foot table. Of course it was lovely to be together at all, to see their sparkling eyes and bright smiles without an intervening pane of glass. But I couldn’t help but think, So close and yet so far, and my yearning for physical contact increased.

That evening it began raining, and the rain continued into the next day. In the morning, I busied myself with writing and some cleaning, the whole time keenly aware of my girls so near yet unreachable. I’d felt O.K. about the quarantine when we were still in Berkeley, but now it seemed unbearable—and impossible. How long would I have to go without contact with Amelie and Poppy? How much of my life was I willing to sacrifice just to stay safe?

As my thoughts turned darker and darker, my phone rang. It was Jonah, his voice singing with pleasure. “The girls have created an art gallery. Come down and look through the window.

Steve and I put on our raingear and made our way to the far side of Jonah’s house, with its sliding glass door and porthole window on the first landing of the stairs to their loft-bedroom. Amie had set herself up at the dining room table, with a sign announcing, “Self-Portraits.” Jonah was sitting across from her, posing as she drew. When I asked her why she was calling her work “Self Portraits,” she explained that she was drawing portraits of the person’s “self.”

Meanwhile, Poppy sat on the landing, ready to display her work. First, she explained, was the “Dot Art.” “Adstract Art” would follow. Steve and I watched as she held up, one after another, paper squares filled with dots of all colors, some highlighted with a background, others floating on white. The “Adstract Art,” again on small squares of paper, looked a lot like Jackson Pollock’s, we told her. Then came the “Landskapes,” filled with trees and colorful flowers dancing in the air. Steve and I selected one piece from each category for purchase, but when Poppy talked price, we were forced to bargain. If a painting was $2.00 or less, I was game. But when she asked for $4.00 for an “Adstract” piece, I bargained her down to $2.00. In the end, she added our bill up, and we owed her $12.50!

Next, we moved back to Amie’s station, where she was just completing a rather good “Self Portrait” of Jonah. After she put the finishing touches on that, she showed us her offerings: “Dot Art,” “Landscapes,” “Adstract Art,” and “Self-Portraits.” No need for bargaining here; Amelie’s prices were all quite reasonable. And her “self-portraits of Jonah, Steve and Poppy each captured something important about the subject.

By now Steve and I were drenched and cold, but I was in much higher spirits. If it weren’t for the Corona Virus, we wouldn’t have had the pleasure of this visit to the girls’ gallery of art. And without the virus, the girls wouldn’t have invented their gallery in the first place.

After we said goodbye, kissed through panes of glass, and began walking home, I realized that, with the right attitude, the pandemic can liberate our imaginations. Young as they are, Amelie and Poppy haven’t yet acquired a long-term perspective. They can still live in the moment, or at least in the day. Regret doesn’t nudge its way between them and whatever they are doing. Their imaginations can soar. And thanks to their imaginations, I had just spent a delightful half-hour shopping for art.

Berkeley Wall

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