I paused in the frame of my open front door to gaze up to the sky. Black clouds were dancing with white, having appeared out of nowhere. Instinctively, I reached up towards my head, pulled off the Hermes scarf wrapped around it, "just in case", and locked the door behind me.
Phone? Check. Signed Attestation form? Check. Mask and gloves, yes those too. But tonight I also carried an empty plastic sack and a pair of scissors in my pocket. I was going on a mission.
We all have our guideposts that are helping us through. Good habits or less so, to shape our days during the lockdown period of the pandemic. I turn towards others, frequently, when I become overwhelmed by the news of the world, the death rates or even the pounding of my own anxiety. Because there is help to be found everywhere, or nearly, if we look; for it is disguised in many forms.
My friend Jamie Beck (I call her my friend Jamie, although we have only met twice, for that is how I think of her in my head) is an internationally acclaimed photographer who has shot for such varied clients as Cartier, Disney and Google. She and her chronically handsome husband Kevin (who is equally brilliant), along with their "so lovely as to not actually seem human" fairy child Eloise are living in nearby Apt, after having an about face from a distinctly glamorous life in my former home of NYC.
Like me, they are in a town, and in an apartment. This, during lockdown, presents challenges.
However, Jamie did not back down, or cower, or binge-watch through the afternoon (of course that would have been perfectly acceptable if she had). On March 14th (three days before the official start of lockdown), she made an announcement: "I decided today to take the power back from losing work, losing freedom, losing support, and get into the studio to commit, to as long as this crisis has a hold on us, and create one original piece of photographic art each day."
And so she has. She has called the series "Isolation Creation" and has invited fellow artists around the world to join in with their own works. Her pieces are of breathtaking beauty and deeply imbued with poignance. With the materials that she has on hand, she creates, carefully constructing and then photographing dioramas of a complexity that would impress the Dutch Masters. And yet there is a lightness of spirit to them, for this is Provence after all.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and so she and Kevin will go out "foraging" in the one kilometre radius that we are allowed on our daily walks. Now...I originally was taken aback by this idea. Were they really snipping away on public land? Yes. So does that mean, perennial good girl that I am, that I could possibly do the same? Yes.
I admit that it took me a week to get up the courage. On my evening "stay sane" strolls, I would spy out wildflowers and weeds that were pleasing to my eye. Yesterday, I took the plunge.
When the first raindrops started to fall, I begrudgingly wondered if life was teasing me for "breaking the rules." But I crossed the massive, now empty municipal parking lot, heading towards my goal. With each step, the rain increased. I could see it in the puddles, that became pebbled with each beat, hitting faster and faster. "I should probably turn back. I can do this another time," I thought. But a quiet voice answered, "It is only rain, Heather. Go on."
At the first snip of the magenta hued buds hidden behind a fence, I knew that I was right to have continued. I carefully laid their lacy frames in the sack for fear of breaking them. They had been my primary objective but I stood to trace my steps backwards, slowly stopping to cut free a jangle of grass with drooping pods, thick ropes dotted violet, delicate butter yellow blooms and a sheaf of green wheat.
With each breath, the rain came harder, until I could hardly see. I was wandering through a downpour. And yet the sun was shining so brightly through it all. Somehow the moment was so...completely unusual that I felt ecstatic. The golden rain, the stolen flowers, my white linen shirt stuck to my skin. What could I do but lift my face up with ridiculous gratitude? I wanted to laugh, to skip, to run.
And suddenly, a memory, a very early one, came surging from my head right to my heart. It was of a little me dancing around in the rain on a summer afternoon, carefree, so long ago. There I was, on the patio of the same house that my Mom had grown up in, deep in the Ohio countryside. I had long since cherished that memory, held it dear as a "before" of pure innocence. And yet here I was, feeling exactly the same at 50, in the middle of a crippling and heart-breaking pandemic. Elated.
Light is possible. Beauty is possible too. This crisis does not negate the eternal.
I smiled at the others that I passed (at an appropriate social distance) on the way back to my apartment. We had all been caught out in it and nobody cared, on the contrary, it did us good. Once inside, I laid the flowers on the tile floor, poured myself a glass of wine and looked at their individual grace.
With a gentle thud, I plopped down on to the floor next to them, getting up only to fetch a vase and free some little strangers who had unwittingly come along for the ride. I positioned each stem with the idea that I had in my head, making adjustments until I was pleased. This is no ikebana but a rough and ramshackle arrangement. I thought it fitting to how I felt in that moment.
Imperfect. But alive. And free.
Each day on Instagram, Jamie features a "roundup" of the artworks that have been submitted for the series. So far, over 200,000 submissions have been received. How absolutely amazing to have moved so many people to create at one of the most frightening moments of our lifetime. In addition, she is giving a proceeds to her sales to support other artists through the Foundation for Contemporary Art's COVID-19 Emergency Grants Fund and has so far raised over $10,000. Honestly, when I read that (in this article which also includes an interview about her concept and process), I cried. It is just so beautiful.
And obviously, please give yourself a wonderful treat by going to discover the Isolation Creation series that is for sale on the website that Kevin created practically overnight to make this happen:
I have already bought Day Seven (the print was only $50 and is of remarkable quality) and would definitely like to buy Day One to accompany it (that is, if I still have a job to go back to! Still no news on that one!).
While I have attempted nearly every art form, I do not find my joy in the visual arts (beyond photography). However, the Isolation Creation series has inspired me to get back to writing again. And that, along with one unforgettable golden hour spent in the rain, has brought me no small amount of Joy.
Stay strong and be safe. And as my friend Edgar reminds me, "Be kind."
With much Love and Gratitude from Provence,