Can Art Survive Motherhood in a Pandemic?
Feb 18, 2021
It is 8:45 pm and towards the end of a dreadfully dark and wet fall day. I have been sick for 3 days now, probably some random virus my body is fighting. But because it has become nearly impossible to go about the business of being sick without considering it is Covid, I went earlier today to have the swab from hell stuck into my nose as far as my eyeball. Who knew a 10 second swab test could be such torture? But that’s the least of my discomforts at the moment.
The ability to have creative expression has always been a blessing for me. Art has always been my savior. But it has been rather difficult to remain committed to my practice in recent months. I live in New York City. The concrete jungle, the City that never sleeps, and one that was hit incredibly hard by Covid. I am sitting in my bedroom, my home office, a.k.a. ‘the cave’ and typing frantically after days of writer's block. If I am completely honest, focus has not come easy to me lately. I go from being highly productive one day, to not wanting to get out of bed on another. I can admit to having the most erratic mood over the past few months, peppered with sudden bouts of anxiety. Presently, I can’t decide whether what I am feeling is anger, or depression, but I am almost certain that it can be mapped somewhere along the 5 stages of grief.(1)
What else can be expected from being stuck inside a massive question mark with no exit door in sight? Only recently, our public schools were once again shuttered down indefinitely. Consequently, over a million children are now learning remotely from home, my two daughters included. Just when I was beginning to get some alone time, it was unceremoniously taken away from me, again. I am not alone in my woes. The pandemic has had a negative impact on the emotional well-being of many mothers. And why wouldn’t it? Over time, the recurring asks for food, entertainment, academic and emotional support can become draining. I for one get further aggravated with the constant clattering of my husband’s typing and his loud and incessant work calls. So many words float in the air in our small Manhattan apartment every day. It’s an irony that I can’t seem to get any down on paper sometimes. The pandemic hasn’t been the only matter of concern over the past 8 months. Escalated racial tensions, and a crucial presidential election, have been a pain point for the American populace. The situation is compounded by a polarized news media and algorithmic social media that tailors what we see. It’s been all-consuming and quite discombobulating.
I believe Art is the means by which we elevate ourselves from our everyday struggles by turning them into something wondrous. But it requires devotion to bring oneself religiously to the page, the drawing board or the camera’s viewfinder. “All the best ideas come out of the process.”(2) The puzzle is how to remain committed to the process of creation at a time when it’s been so easy to get distracted. I find clarity in Mary Oliver’s proposition, “Attention is the beginning of devotion”(3). It is my unrelenting endeavor to pay attention amidst all the noise around me; in spite of my engagement in the children’s lives and in the upkeep of our household. It is the story of many mothers, all over the world. We tend to give ourselves away without question or hesitation. But it is important to remember, that as care- givers, however non-instinctive it may seem, it is essential that we put on our oxygen masks, before we go to the aid of those that depend on us.
The pandemic placed limitations on how, not if, I could pursue Art. I could not photograph people outside, but I could do so indoors. My daughters, with whom I have spent a majority of my recent days, have been an integral part of my creative journey during this time. Our lives have been so intertwined, that my experience needed our collaborative expression. Working together creatively also meant that I could talk to them about what was going on around us in the warm and inclusive space of art. It was an opportunity to educate them on how to foster personal growth even in hard times, and be grateful for all that we have in our lives despite all that we don’t. Our collaboration led to ‘Covidity’ , an ongoing photo series that attempts to visualize some of our conversations and experiences during the Covid lockdown. The imagery is an output of creative and intellectual inputs from all three of us, and has turned out to be something we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
Glass Half Full, 2020
Just as I am concluding this piece, I receive news from the doctor’s office that I am negative for Covid. Something as casual as cuddling the girls and taking photos of them seems to now hold more value than it did before. As does a walk with my camera to Central Park, or a socially distant chat with another mom like myself. Each of us, making it all work at an insane time like this, with a huge cup of coffee and a heart full of love.
Since I wrote this piece in Nov 2020, a new year has dawned. A historically long drawn out US Presidential Election has concluded, the Vaccine roll out is under way, and schools continue to either remain closed altogether, or oscillate between being open and closed. And although my enthusiasm is under tremendous pressure from my maternal responsibilities, I continue to press on with ‘Covidity’, because if there is anything that has held me during this difficult time, it has been Art.
Jenkins, K. (2020). The Five Stages Of Grief And The Pandemic. [online] ACEsConnection. Available at: <https://www.acesconnection.com/blog/the-five-stages-of-grief-and-the-pandemic> [Accessed 20 Nov. 2020]
Fig, J. (2009). Inside the Painter's Studio, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, p. 42
Oliver, M. (2016). Upstream, New York: Penguin Press, p. 8