June 2020—Covid-19 case numbers have been feeding the logarithmic scale of the worldometer almost hyperbolically for several months.
Recently, I came across an article by Arundhati Roy, “The Pandemic is a portal,” published in the Financial Times in April. Despite the intervening three months between publication and the day I read it—which meant there was an exponential increase in the pandemic statistics worldwide—I kept coming back to the open end of Roy’s article.
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
Having read this, I had to sort out my affairs. What was most important to me? Who did I want to be in this new world? Here’s what I found.
My friend Nadia planted this idea in my head that I was an artist. Here’s what I’m not: an artist.
Not an artist in the conventional way. I did not go to art school and until recently I didn’t pursue it as a hobby. In fact, I did not even have a real hobby. After giving up so many—I’d tried piano and horse-back riding (both a childhood dream), and occasional Ikea assembling—the number of failures were themselves disincentives for having any kind of hobby at all. The best I could achieve was a mediocre level in tennis so I could attempt to play with my husband—who himself has several hobbies. Driving is one (driving change, driving me around, driving fast, driving too fast), but what won my heart was where I fail the most—speaking. He is the speaker of our house. I delegate this assignment to him naturally, though he enjoys my writing.
But one day Nadia gave me a painting kit and left me there in the middle of my living room, looking at these amazing watercolours that she brought from Japan which, she explained, contained some God-sprinkled pigments that make magic.
She also supplied the paper and the brush. Two actually. One yellow and one blue. They looked alike and made me curious. Wouldn’t one be enough? It turned out one was for contours and one for colouring. At least those were the tasks I assigned them down the road.
At the time, my first reaction was more a confirmation that people like to offer gifts that they themselves enjoy the most. Nadia is fully an artist. And art is something that my dear friend Andreea enjoys the most, too, as can be seen in her wood burning, and Amy and Adam in their art of writing.
I did not know what I enjoyed the most, so I was polite but rather indifferent as far as the object of the gift. Then, a few months later, Covid-19 showed up and put the world on pause. After a few weeks of anxiety I decided it was time to take out the painting kit from Nadia.
I wasn’t bored, though. In fact, I was rather busy with work and anxiety and cooking.
My daughter had decided to become vegetarian during the lockdown—a noble act in itself—but the timing did not suit me. In normal times I am a terrible cook. I love good food but my imagination exceeds my cooking abilities. I often plan complex and nutritious dishes with carefully selected organic ingredients, but I end up opting for basic recipes and delaying the more imaginative ones until all the ingredients are spoiled. Then I have an excuse to call Ludmila—my dear friend who is a vegan chef of divine ascent.
But given the circumstances, it sounded like all the ingredients of a cooking crisis were in my home.
Painting was my new solution to the crises. School crisis, cooking crisis, virus obsession.
When I sat down with my painting kit, nobody was hungry anymore, the virus returned to wherever it came from, online schooling was just becoming a revelation and above all, there I bathed in a form of deep calm and beauty that created a wall around me nobody dared to touch.
I was given artist credentials, my paintings started being displayed and admired, people whispered words of praise around me.
Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but I did keep painting all the flowers that came to my mind. A flower a day. Sometimes two, just to allow for the occasional blunder. I even had a goal. A month-long painting of flowers. Now I’ve exceeded that goal. I’ve become a worshiper of flowers—if that meets the definition of an unconventional artist. I became what I was meant to be.
I was going to look for a moral to my story. It may have crossed my mind that painting flowers could be a solution to every crisis. After all, I am convinced that sometimes a crisis can bring out the good, the beautiful, and the obvious, and it was within this crisis that I redefined my place in the new world. Plus, it provided me with the hobby I’ve always wanted. What’s more, through the exploration, I have resolved to being more trusting and open and real, learning from the flowers I am painting. It’s a start.
No, painting will not cure the coronavirus, but my discovery was encouraging enough for me to know I will not stop at painting flowers. I will take them with me as I enter the Portal towards a new world.
I will also bring a few vegan recipes. About that, I’ve always wondered, how do bears thrive on berries and acorns and honey? And horses on oats and grass! Something to learn from them too.
I may need to paint them to understand.