Today, December 30, 2020, is the first anniversary of the first inter-agency announcements regarding what would later be identified as COVID-19. Two weeks later, on January 14, 2020, a team from BlueDot, a Canadian software company on a mission to “create a global early warning system for infectious disease,” published the following statement in the Journal of Travel Medicine:
“On 30 December 2019, a report of a cluster of pneumonia of unknown aetiology was published on ProMED-mail, possibly related to contact with a seafood market in Wuhan, China.1 Hospitals in the region held an emergency symposium, and support from federal agencies is reportedly helping to determine the source of infection and causative organism.”
Who among us would have thought such a definitively geeky statement would have indicated life as we knew it, hampered by myths and delusions or not, was about to be seriously hijacked and held hostage by a nightmare for the rest of the year? This author certainly did not. But yes, like many other Americans, I began paying closer attention to reports on the weird new coronavirus beginning to infect headlines on the internet, radio, newspapers, and finally television network news.
Well, I thought, this is something different. Soon, soon following stories the microscopic beast had started spreading its invisible mayhem on both coasts of the United States, I began writing my own reflections.
What Exactly Does This Thing Mean
Emerging reports on the COVID-19/Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 repeatedly have confirmed observations made by authors like Albert Camus writing in The Plague, Thomas Mann in his novel Death in Venice, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 100 Years of Solitude: pestilence on a global scale can prompt human beings to act with either the most courageous and benevolent inclinations, or, with the most cowardly and heinous. Somewhere in the mix of those extremes, individuals in these socially-distant times are discovering what it means to have or not have a soul and the difference it makes when speaking of things like communities, love, or the future.
The indifference with which pestilence can compromise human life on a worldwide scale is one of its most attention-grabbing qualities. It is not slowed by ethics or a guilty conscience but only by the combined wisdom, knowledge, courage, and dedicated actions of men and women working to defeat it. It pays no heed to flags, gender-conflict issues, skin color (although the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 upon people of color in different countries has been well-documented), declarations of self-righteousness, or speech accents. Its single impulse is a vampiric one: to devour humans so its own lifeform can continue thriving.
Adapting, Evolving, and Persevering
It hardly seemed possible that in our ultra-modern technologically-advanced era we would find ourselves, at the end of 2020 going into 2021, stunned by nearly 2 million deaths worldwide and a steadily increasing overload of more than 82 million cases. At the time of this writing, it is estimated that someone somewhere on the planet dies of the disease every half minute.
It was a struggle, at the beginning, to adapt to the social distancing restrictions imposed by the pandemic. I grumbled about having to cancel book signings and lectures previously scheduled to support the launch of Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind. That self-absorbing regret was soon dumped in favor of a determination to encourage others to support efforts to defeat COVID-19 and help protect those vulnerable to it.
Moreover, there was clearly a new and essential kind of work to get done. The introduction to Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind had to be rewritten before the rescheduled Fall 2020 launch. Functions artwork suitably designed for face masks needed to be produced (something accomplished through partnership with Fine Art America).
And, perhaps most importantly, I needed to decide the form which my extended documentation of the pandemic would take. Neither a blog nor a podcast nor a single world of fine art would be enough in itself. So I decided, and began work, on a full-size book of full-page color art and texts presented in a unique format. Something like that was very much in line with one of the words used most frequently throughout 2020: unprecedented. Given the intense nature of the subject, I am hoping that upon completion and publication, it will prove appropriate and worthy.
Here's to a Happier COVID-Free New Year 2021.
Creator of Silk-Featherbrush Artstyle
Co-Author of Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance
Author of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah
I considered myself exercising patience and restraint when I resisted paying additional shipping fees to receive my order of Barack Obama’s bestselling book, A Promised Land, just one day after it came out on November 17, 2020. Having opted for the longer arrival time of approximately 2 weeks at the much cheaper cost of “Free Shipping,” I did not expect to receive the book until either the end of November or early December. So imagine my surprise and #gratitude when it showed up November 19, just 2 days after the release date.
There’s no question A Promised Land is one of the most significant, if not THE most significant, memoirs of the modern era. Because of Mr. Obama’s direct involvement with public events which have shaped much of America’s and the world’s history in this first half of the 21st century, it could not have been otherwise.
A Parallel Literary Journey
In the photograph above, I have placed A Promised Land between 2 of my own most recent books: Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah and Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind. The reason is not because I megalomaniacally imagine myself to be as famous or influential as the 44th president of the United States of America, but to commemorate a parallel literary journey through some extraordinary shared history. It is also my way of having a little social distance holiday fun with the great man himself.
Upon his election to the Oval Office 2008, I wrote the first (“There upon A Bough of Hope and Audacity”) of several poems about Barack H. Obama’s historic achievement. During my time as a national cultural arts columnist for AXS Entertainment, I wrote a number of articles documenting responses to Mr. Obama’s first term as president (with now #PresidentElect Joe Biden as his vice president). The proliferation of what we now frequently refer to as disinformation and misinformation prompted me to coin the term guerrilla decontextualization for the extreme nihilism directed against him and his family. Many Americans were not certain he would still be here to write and publish this book. The fact that he did endure to tell his remarkable story in A Promised Land is something totally worthy of celebration and gratitude.
Harlem Renaissance Centennial 2020-2030
A shortage of compelling topics to address via books, blog essays, podcasts, fine art, photography, electronic gaming, and other creative media has not been among the traumatizing events unleashed upon humanity in the year 2020. Painful history-altering occurrences have, however, included the following: a very stubborn and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting economic crisis, further evidence of climate change in the form of murderous fires in California, riots in cities across America in response to #2ManyLivesGone2Soon, and political unease in the face of an uncertain future.
Incorporating reports on important public happenings into ongoing projects has long been among the better practices at Bright Skylark Literary Productions. It goes back at least as far to the days of my former AXS National African-American Cultural Arts column when I created art graphics for my news stories. Articles sometimes included original poetry to enhance editorial impact. Where the year 2020 is concerned, the following steps have been taken:
Although taking the above steps did not erase the different social, political, and environmental ills currently dogging the world, I like to think they contributed to the process of helping move things in a better healthier direction.
“Compassion crowns the soul with its truest victory.”
(from the poem “Angel of Healing: for the Living, the Dying, and the Praying” published in the book THE RIVER OF WINGED DREAMS.)
Descriptions of my artwork made available for sale are usually posted in the Silk-Featherbrush Artstyle blog section here at Bright Skylark. However, I’m sharing reflections on two items in this space: Sunrise in the Valley of Compassion and Flotilla of Candles. Created in original Silk-Featherbrush Artstyle, both deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives.
Sunrise in the Valley of Compassion
I keep feeling like a greater more mindful application of compassion towards each other might be the single biggest silver lining behind the toxic cloud of the coronavirus which has defined our collective experience of the year 2020. “Sunrise in the Valley of Compassion” is a celebration of our capacity to increase the best within us when confronted by the worst which life throws our way.
In this image, the polychromatic light-waves of yellow, red, teal, blue, and orange are framed by shadows of darker hues with a blaze of yellow-white emerging out of the upper right corner. Symbolically speaking, the source of one advancing wave of luminous color is the natural universe as seen when dawn breaks, and the second represents our repeated determination to “do better” by each other when it comes to matters of social and political injustice. The shadows of trauma slowly give way to brighter hopefulness and stronger resolve.
Flotilla of Candles
By definition, the word “flotilla” refers to a fleet of ships. In regard to “Flotilla of Candles,” it is used metaphorically to describe hundreds of thousands of candles lit and set afloat in honor of those whose lives have been lost to COVID-19. When news broke that the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the United States had surpassed 200,000, and the number of losses worldwide hit more than 1 million, we were reminded all over again of the grim realities of the year 2020. Some of us living in classified “Red Zones” and “Orange Zones” have never had a chance to forget them.
In addition to serving as an acknowledgement of people lost around the world to the pandemic, “Flotilla of Candles” is a tribute to those who have battled ceaselessly against it. We know well enough about the medical professionals who have repeatedly put their lives at risk since the peak of the outbreak. In fact, any number have died from coronavirus themselves and lost both loved ones and colleagues to it. There are also, however, many more like public transportation workers, grocery store clerks, and farm workers who in the past have so often been overlooked or taken for granted, but who in 2020 proved “essential” to many communities’ survival.
This artwork started out as a poetic tribute to my own children, lost under other conditions years ago. But the more I worked on it, the more I felt they would have wanted me to widen the scope to acknowledge stories of lives beyond our own. A pandemic, after all, is something which impacts world populations and not just 1 or 2 households or communities. Remembrance itself is a form of beauty and the year 2020 has given us a lot to remember.
Contemporary award-winning author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.