Art and the Anti-COVID: What is Your Art?

12 wine cosy designs in a circleWhat is your Art? That is to say, what in your soul seeks expression and what form does it take?

As I write this, I am fresh off the experience of grading 50 college essays where students, reflecting on Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, produced arguments for key take-aways from the film. Among other things, we see, in “2001”, a progressive muting of the female life-giving and life-nurturing essence of humanity as technology gains momentum and forges a mutated version of life, the film culminating in the “birth” of the star child—an alarming and imposing creature, conceived without female involvement, heading menacingly straight towards Mother Earth.

Every semester, I return to this film with my students but it is strikingly more poignant to grapple with this time around as we wrestle with the devastating effects of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our world and wrested from our arms beloved friends and family members, not to mention the comfort of what we used to view as “the mundane” in our lives. “Normal” is not normal any more. While we have always known it is a dangerous world “out there”—this virus threatens to breach our walls! Will it enter on the surface of something brought into our home? Is it safe to go to the yarn shop, to knit with friends, even to take a walk on the foot path shared with others now working from home? Mother Earth is under assault and the smell of death is real.

And so the collision of this film and our fractured present juxtaposes in my mind, on the one hand, the million+ deaths by COVID-19 with the growing abyss of loss to the human race around this globe and, on the other hand, the question of its antithesis—the “Anti-COVID.” Is there such a thing? I’m not talking about a vaccine or a medical therapeutic in the future—I am entrusting that to the scientists—and, without question, we yearn for the day that is within reach. But I am talking about right now. Are our lives defined solely by this gaping loss or is there something equally powerful standing in the face of the death of so many lives and lifestyle? What sustains us and pushes forth life-giving breath in these moments? Because surely we press on. What is the Anti-COVID fueling our tanks? When you lean in towards yourself, do the things you find most meaningful give you strength, direction, focus, and purpose when the world seems to be on fire and lost at sea? Do you find a compass within?

A fellow Iowan, Kurt Vonnegut, in 2006 put it this way: “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”

Just what if THIS is the Anti-COVID? In this short life, is each day…each moment…precious? And how do we protect it, if not by infusing it with our own sense of purpose…a purpose somehow nurtured and inspired by our own creative powers? Do we each have the power to feed our souls, to breathe life into each moment, to experience our own becoming in the face of what threatens to diminish?

I have to admit I was knocked off my game when the quarantines started. Knitting and designing which had always been “my crack” disappeared. The hours went by, then days, and weeks as I waited to get my bearings again after feeling the earth shift underfoot. In another discussion for another time, I’d love to talk with you about what we have learned from the art of pandemics past…how the same souls which had breath wrenched from them have been able to speak to human frailty of human empowerment. But, for now, something concrete that has “made my soul grow”: A series of Wine Cosies for All Occasions.

It started with a simple wine cosy for Valentine’s Day – something to hug that gift of a bottle of wine, which, when the wine is gone, could live on as a vase for flowers…perhaps the dried roses that were gifted with the wine. And then my amazing cadre of test knitters got on board and ideas were unleashed, how about more styles, one for Easter…and Christmas, and Halloween? And my dachshund-loving friend, as she test knit the black cats for Halloween longed for dogs and so the Beloved Pets design was born. Soon a whole year of designs were in the works and it seemed okay to postpone the project release because now we were isolating and our fingers were stitch by stitch moving through a year of symbols and themes that make life rich and make us smile.

What is your art? What makes your soul grow? I hope the Anti-COVID is strong in you and that your creative spark is alive and well. And, if you are a knitter, I hope looking at my calendar year of wine cosy designs brings a smile as you think about stitching your way forward.