Baltimore Critters

Finding Your Spark During COVID, CTL ALT DELETE

Chapter 3

“It only takes a spark, to get a fire going/ and soon all those around / will warm up in it’s glowing.  That’s how it is with God’s love, blah blah blah blah blah, pass it on.”

I am not a religious person; in fact, my beliefs venture into Bill Maher territory.  That said, the folk song sung during our old church mass — enthusiastically accompanied by Tambourine Lady (who played like she’d hit the glass pipe right before performance) — did resonate with me.

During the early bleak days of COVID, business was murdered.  Suddenly, my normal schedule lurched to a halt.  Travel: cancelled. The only trip I was going on was down the steps and to the couch.  Voyages to Walmart grocery shopping became the highlight of the week.  Surrounding everything was (is?) a fog of stress.  Everything.  Need to get your teeth cleaned?  Can’t — COVID.  Want to go to the gym?  Can’t — COVID.  Need to have your oil changed?   Can’t — COVID.  Want to go out to lunch?   Can’t — COVID.  Want to have a neighbor over for a glass of wine on the roof top deck?  Can’t — COVID.  Want to visit mom?   Can’t — COVID.  Cable going freaky so you call Xfinity?  “Please be advise hold times are longer than usual due to the COVID Pandemic.  Wait time is — COMPUTER VOICE — 5 hours.  Please hold, your call is very important to us…”

How COVID causes long wait times on Xfinity I don’t know.

F*****G COVID.

But it was during one of my daily calls with my mom that she’d mumbled a word: “Podcast.”  She had been pushing me for weeks, telling me I needed a project, the way every mother was pushing every son, worldwide.  I’d been half listening, and then, with that one word, I snapped to attention.

Or, at least, perked up an ear.  Like Cat does, when he hears me in the kitchen somewhere near his food bag three hours before feeding time.

A teeny-tiny, ever so slight, just a bare itch of a spark tickled the back of my brain.  Podcast.  That’s a thought.

I started to plan.  Buy equipment.  Research.  I like buying equipment.

With that, the 743 Patterson Park Podcast was launched.  I envisioned a forum to interview and promote local artists.  I wanted to talk about the pandemic, and how artists were surviving.  I was curious about the art in the neighborhood surrounding me.  A neighborhood I’d never really explored; there was never time.  There was a lot of art around me.  Some obvious: huge murals on the side of row houses.  Some not obvious.  One author I saw on our neighborhood Facebook pages, Shelley Brown,  was working on a book entitled Weird Girl Adventures.  Who was she?  What made her tick?  “In between sentiment and cynic, there’s a space for all of us.  WEIRD.  It’s more than a word, it’s a way of life.”  Why did that click?  I’ve always thought of myself as weird.  Good podcast episode, I thought.

I went for a walk on a warm late summer day, and noticed two things.  First, a lot of windows were painted with fancy “Black Lives Matter” graphics.  Not the normal black and white logo, but those words in swirls of painted vines and flowers.  In the corner was:  “@BLM_Windows_Baltimore”.

Black Lives Matter Window Mural
One of Kates Black Lives Matter Window Murals

Had an artist launched a micro-business creating BLM Window Murals in Baltimore?  How smart was that?  Good podcast episode, I thought.

I reached out on Instagram.  The artist, Kate, lived about two blocks from my house.  On a background call, she told me she’d recruited other artists to help her paint windows, and together they’d created more than 100.  In addition, they raised over $5,000 for black advocacy groups.

The second thing I noticed were all these yarn things on signs and poles around the neighborhood.  They were like snakes, or unicorns, or something.

Baltimore Critters
Baltimore artist Martha Simons created these critters and released them into the wild when placing them on poles throughout the area

They were everywhere.  I had no idea how they got there, or what they were.  Good podcast episode, I thought.

But it was when I talked to Kate, the BLM Window Mural artist, that I froze in my tracks.  She said:  I just wanted to see my art when I walked to work.  My ears perked up, just like Cat, three hours before feeding time when I’m in the kitchen near his food bag.  What did she say?

She reminded me of all those young artists on shows like Project Runway who just want to see their clothes on people as they walk down the street.  Or the young, gay photographer who just wants to see his photo on the front page of a magazine.  I saw myself in Kate.  I understood why she created: it was the same reason I created.  The magazine cover became the newspaper became the website became the experiential photo marketing image became the blog became the podcast.

And then I talked to Allison, a jewelry artist who hand crafts her pieces “inspired by our urban jungle.”  She talked, and talked, and it was all straight forward until:

“I get inspiration from interacting with people, and with COVID, ‘BOOM!’ that’s gone,” she said sadly.

There it was!  She’d just articulated the real cause of my depression.  There was why it was hard to enjoy anything.  There is why when I thought of joy it turned to ash in my mouth.  (Yes, that’s a Game of Thrones reference.) I got my energy from interacting with people.  No interaction with people, no energy.  It was so obvious!

Duh.  But I had never known.

On another episode I spoke with my Aunt Jean.  She said, “You don’t know how heavy a load someone is carrying.”  She said she used her art to bring joy to people who might be facing dark times.  Umm, yeah.  Again.  Why I create.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the most creative of them all?”

Then on another episode I spoke with a mom and son team, Aaron Hill and Cheryl Lawson.  Cheryl said, “COVID has been an invisible ankle bracelet.  But in spite of the storm, there’s been a rebooting for people.”

Rebooting.  Rebirth.  COVID gave people a chance to slow down and see what was in front of them the entire time.  Damned.  She was right.  This woman who found her art by sitting in the park and coloring with kids looking over her shoulder just told me something I didn’t know:  COVID was an excuse to stop and learn.

As I spoke with artist after artist after artist after artist I realized they all taught me something about creativity I hadn’t known.  We  had an overwhelming need to create.  We wanted people to react to us.  People brought us energy.  COVID gave us an excuse to explore.  We were weird.  Our art sparked joy.

The virus that took away my ability to connect with other people actually gave me the ability to explore creativity by connecting with artists.  Suddenly, through Zoom, I had an excuse to get my dose of social interaction.  It was the vaccine for the boredom and depression surrounding COVID.  Through the Podcast, and talking to these creative people, and (as Allison put it) “feeling the commonality that erupts”.

Like the born again being doused in the river, I felt the spirit.

Obviously, I still miss business, and travel, and our events.  But now, there is a light at the end of the long, dark COVID tunnel.  Until I can reach the other side, the podcast is serving as a little warm candle to help guide my way.  I’ve learned more about creativity and what makes the creative person tick in the past few months than my previous 52 years.

When the computer isn’t working, when it’s frozen and blinking at you, what do you do?

You hit CTL.  ALT.  DELETE.

Thanks, Cheryl.  Thanks Aaron and Kate and Allison and Mollye and Aunt Jean and Shelley and Martha.  You were the keys that clicked and launched my reboot.  You were my CTL ALT DELETE.

And now I feel like creating.