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My 2020 Bucket Runneth O'er

Poor 2020. We dropped it at the door like our 6th grade backpack. It will be cast in the history books as a villain. It will be a desolate road marker by which we gauge decades of memories. We'll say things like "I know 'X' was at least 12 years ago because it was before 2020," and everyone in the room will nod knowingly. My life was certainly inconvenienced, but I was very fortunate to not suffer any significant personal loss. At least not yet. I have multiple friends who suffered tremendous loss last year, whether it was the death of a loved one or devastating loss of income or property, etc., and I feel a little of what I can only describe as survivor's guilt for having gotten off so easy. Looking back, I have a lot to be grateful for from my time in 2020.

I did almost zero drawing or painting last year, despite months of endless hours cooped up in the house. Having my children home for 9 months straight had a special way of barricading the doors to the "Zone". More noise, more bodies, more dishes, more entertaining of listless minds and friendless extroverts, more elementary school instruction, more screens. Every entrance to the Zone was blocked. The itch to create had to be scratched by some other means, and I found a number of outlets, some of which, at the time, felt like a poor substitute for creativity but, at very least, a way to while away the anxious hours. In retrospect though, they all added up to a year of very fulfilling new hobbies and happy memories. My bucket of creativity feels like it is spilling over and I'm excited to get back to illustration this year!

Some of my new tricks, courtesy of 2020 (and the internet), include the care and feeding of sour dough starter and the baking of sour dough bread (yes, I was one of those. To be fair, I had no idea everyone else was doing it too when I started. Pinterest incepted me.) I did an online logo design course with my brilliant friend Tannie. Also, I am celebrating 7 months sober from decades of flat iron dependence. That's right, I've embraced my curls. And I am here to tell you there is a steep learning curve to curly hair. I've also picked up a few long over-due, age-appropriate skin care techniques. My children even got in on the 2020-style fun. They spent countless happy hours together playing board games and card games, riding their bikes together, swimming together, and picking up new hobbies of their own like painting, furniture restoration, sewing, ukulele, etc. Thank you, 2020 and Internet!

But my favorite of all my new tricks that I picked up in 2020 was learning to play the piano. In March, with too many news articles and social media posts feeding the anxiety beast in my brain, and no creative Zone to retreat to, I needed to find something to literally occupy my hands and keep me from checking my phone constantly. So I opened my kids' beginner piano books and spent sometimes as much as 3-4 hours a day teaching myself the basics. By the end of the first week I was on Level 2, and two weeks later I was taking lessons. Last month, (10 months into my piano journey) I played at my first Christmas piano recital. It was terrifying and humbling. But I've never been so determined to do something so hard, so publicly, and I'm really proud of my accomplishment.

I love playing the piano. I love watching the list of pieces that I've conquered grow. I love that I am creating beauty, but without the wrestle of the illustration process. I can simply sit down at the piano and teach my fingers to play the notes that are provided on the page. My kids can (and do) interrupt me, but I just sit back down and pick up where I left off because I'm not conjuring and composing the music out of the ether in the inner chambers of the Zone like I do when I'm illustrating. It feels like Painting by Number. I'm just doing what the sheet music tells me to do. To be honest, (I'm not proud of this part) I never understood the appeal of Color by Number or Painting with a Twist activities--why do something if you can't do it well? Can those people not see that what they've made is... amateur? mediocre? Shame on me for being so narrow in that view! I get it now. I'm not playing to impress anyone. I am under no delusions of mastery and have no hope of ever becoming skilled at the piano at this point. I play because it's beautiful to me, and relaxing to me, and creative and expansive to me. So color those numbers! Paint with your wine and your friends! Post your work proudly online! My clunky 42-year-old fingers will play intermediate piano pieces alongside 5-17 year-olds at piano recitals and even post it online for my family to see. I guess 2020 also taught me a little more self acceptance too. It feels really nice. I hope it spills over into my illustration.


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