The work of this issue is so beautiful, so weirdly wonderful in its different shapes and voices. No pressure, dear December authors—Liam Strong, Nancy Jorgensen, Shannon Bowring—but for me, your work, woven together, comes with a prescription for 2021.
This year has been so steeped in crisis, it’s hard for many of us to consider what came just before. I was already avoiding backward looks before 2020 dawned, and was so thankful, as we counted off those final days of 2019, to see the new year.
In early August 2019, my father had the stroke that killed him two weeks later. Six weeks after that, my mother died in particularly painful and distressing circumstances. The rest of the year was a blur.
By February 2020, I was beginning to feel a little like myself. Pushing through my days became less difficult, my head began to lift. Then… well. All the events that have inspired the habit of a head shake accompanied by the muttered “2020” began to unfold.
My 2019 strategy was to keep my fogged head down and push through, whispering, “This, too, shall pass.” It worked well enough while life, arranged around my confusion of grief, more or less conformed to experience. But here we are, nearing the end of an extraordinary year leading to the next extraordinary year, and I have no idea exactly what’s going to pass, what the passing will look like, and how long it will take.
No lowered head, no closed eyes. No whispering.
I’m doing two things this month to say a firm goodbye to 2020 and walk with intention and strength into whatever the next year holds: Taking stock and making joy.
I’m moved in our December publications by the stories of how we’re made by family and place, by intergenerational connection and disconnection, by deeply personal gain and loss. The events of 2020 and especially the pandemic have inspired reflection on exactly these things, and I am so grateful, given my 2019, for reminders of others’ stories, for every dose of empathy that pulls me back to community. So much the better when the art of the delivery brings joy.
I’m transported by this issue into the lives—real or imagined, the meaning is as deeply felt—very like me or completely unlike me; so close I can feel their breath or presented in whole image, like a painting that shows me something different depending on my sightline. And the art. Dense and chaotic (Strong’s “oil spill”), ordered and lightly spaced (Jorgensen’s “A Thing of Beauty”), strung along the page like birdsong (Bowring’s “Avian Elegies”).
This work, laced together with companion pieces ranging from the gifts of nature, to a beloved master like Patti Smith, and the generous artists Maggie Lach and Deb Farrell, helps me both take clear-eyed stock of loss—personal and communal—and remember what it is to make joy. And share it.