All Things At Once: Visual Diary for a Wayward Year

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Art AND: Chris Bathgate

A personal mythology is an invented thing, a collection of experiences that reinforce who we think we are. It’s family and history, accidents and accomplishments, the stories we tell ourselves. The person I thought I was before COVID-19 and quarantine would probably not be impressed with the soft person in soft pants I am now, but I don’t have much choice about this. It’s officially been a year since I first showed symptoms and was hospitalized in 2020. I still have questions about weird lingering health problems, none of them serious, just enough to be worrying.

We have all been bent and damaged by this experience and I would like to think that I am improved from all the mending, like those broken Japanese ceramics fused together with gold veins, but I really can’t say.

At the start of quarantine, I was so sick that the first six weeks flew by in a blur. I have no memories except for the realization that I could not smell my dog’s warm and slightly rancid breath. I can only remember what I wrote and photographed. Now, a year later, my world still revolves mostly around my home and it’s all sameness and quiet space, although it’s also starting to change more, with people I care about being vaccinated and moving around more freely. A year of COVID-19 quarantine for me is mostly wanting to want to do things and wondering where the time went.

I wonder if, for every experience lost during the past year, did we gain something else? I would very much like to NOT consider this year a loss. What I am hoping for is a heightened sense of that which is directly, physically present, a connection to myself and those closest to me, to books and music and art and food. I would like to think that this year of quiet will make me a better human to go back into the world.



Lake Roland hike and another visit to another doctor's office.




Daily journal musing and my feet in an empty art gallery.




Math problems for my son and the neighborhood swimming pool captured from above.


I have come to understand how little control I have over my life these days, floating with the current, a collaborator with opposing forces at best. I hold a distant appreciation for all the movement and noise in my former life—proliferating deadlines and an endless array of meetings and events, but that is on hold, at least for now.



Me at age 10 on the kitchen counter and my son at the same age in his "Covid uniform"




Biggie loves watermelon.


I am done waiting for the world to return to “normal,” and I’m trying to limit the most offensive distractions, the dire news headlines, an addictive abyss that provokes feelings of hopelessness and apathy. I try to limit my scrolling on social media platforms in search of a high, a feeling of connection, that mostly makes me feel inadequate. We are trained to be so competitive, so aware of who is winning and losing, so binary in our choices. It’s exhausting and I have to focus on what I can nurture and control.



Red onions at the Waverly Farmer's Market and my son's drawing on bark from a neighborhood Sycamore




Keeping track of exercise and the collection of tiny plastic dogs that sits next to my computer.


There are so many unknowns right now. This country feels like a tragic mess and we don’t know what’s going to happen with healthcare, government, the economy, public health. I can drive myself crazy reading all of it or stop and focus on that which is present, physical, and ordinary. In the absence of travel, events, social gatherings, and plans, what is left to focus one’s attention? Home. Family. Friends. Books. Plants. Cooking. Art. Writing. Netflix binges.



Blueberries and too many post-it notes




Visiting a friend's farm and revisiting graduation after a season of zero graduations


I am trying to focus on the quiet pleasures that envelop me without even realizing it. I am paying attention to immediate physical stimuli, that which is normally easy to ignore, ascertaining its meaning and impact. I can write words on a page. I can feel the wind on my skin. I write an imaginary graduation speech for the class of 2020.

I plant seeds with my son in the garden. A giant pumpkin vine took over our yard and then turned moldy and disintegrated. There are beans and herbs, peppers and flowers. We take turns watering them each day. We take walks and ride bikes. We snuggle with our dogs under blankets at night. We play Uno and watch sitcoms. I look forward to the coffee my husband makes each morning.



Driving home late past the museum, brushing my teeth after my one night out in months


I am an extrovert and I’m trying to keep my focus sharp, but the truth is I thrive around the creative and social energy of others. I’m dying to see friends, to attend a party, for adventure and odd conversations. I miss being too busy and having simultaneous impossible deadlines, the more the better, and the rush from chaotic productivity that yields surprises and keeps me engaged.

For me, the unexpected stimuli from my work and social interactions feed my creative life. And now most of that is gone. On a daily basis, I ask myself how to stay motivated when time feels like a flat circle and deadlines feel arbitrary at best and most of the world has grown hazy and abstract. How do you measure the passage of time, when every day is basically the same?

I have a need for not knowing. I need difference and dissonance.



Boys at Bethany beach and fresh peaches, the best parts of summer


I have always been an avid archivist of my own life through photography and these days I take at least a few dozen photos a day on my phone, sometimes hundreds. I’m looking closely at the colors and textures around me, the patterns and seams, the simple materials and the nostalgia that surrounds all of this.

Without explicitly meaning to, I am keeping a visual diary of this strange time, digging into the quiet physicality of my world, trying to figure out what it all means because my life is a greater mystery to me now than ever before, despite all the mundanity, frustration, and insecurity of this time.



Leo's summer reading list




Falling in love with all things grilled




Fiesta Mexicana birthday and the perfect card




Two figs from my garden and my parents the year before I was born


For me, life is always contradictory and simplicity only exists in good design.

An experience, or the way it’s captured, doesn’t feel real unless there are opposing realities, contrasting layers, a bittersweet longing for what is missing. I tend to pair images together to complicate things, to show that my life is not one thing or another, that there is always a subtext or a tangent or a side story and nothing is straightforward.



Wildflowers and homemade card


On my 46th birthday, my parents come for a visit and bring overflowing boxes of family photos, and I pore over the history of my ancestors in sepia and black and white. This summer I found myself taking extra photos on holidays and birthdays because these days felt important, offering a specificity that set it apart. I took countless photos of the objects that reminded me of the people I love, of the food I want to cook for them, attempting to capture the nighttime smells and the sound of cicadas and the shadows of trees on buildings.



My mother's second grade school portrait and our deck at night


I am experiencing an internal reckoning, a constant questioning of everything, and sometimes it has a hobbling and corrosive effect. It makes me feel weak and lazy, but it also offers clarity. The physical world around me is worth paying attention to. The few people I am allowed to spend my time with are endlessly fascinating and wonderful and I am so thankful for them.

Playing ping pong outside in the balmy night air while arguing about politics and drinking a beer beaded with sweat can be the pinnacle of a week. A neighborhood BLM protest with my son is the highlight of an entire month.



My son's first BLM protest and tomatoes in my kitchen




Driving past a fire in Charles Village and the faint bleed of my writing through the page


I have given myself time to garden and cook, to read, and to walk in the woods. In an attempt to impose some order into my largely unscheduled life, I have been taking an early morning run-walk and I’ve become enamored with all the summer smells of trees, breathing deeply the pungent alkaline scent of cedar and tinny fragrance of pine needles.

I’m watching the hummingbird who visits my backyard on a daily basis and I am devouring as many beautiful fleshy tomatoes as one human possibly can, drizzling them in oil and sea salt. How to reconcile this quiet natural world with the reality of proliferating news headlines, with protest and brutality, with the knowledge that many people in this country have no respite from the violence? I have to believe the quiet is to create space for the toxic to bubble to the surface, to be exposed in a collective awakening that builds a movement for real change, despite all the distance between people.



Fireworks and swimming out in the country


I don’t know what it all means, and I don’t know what will happen. I worry about the world my son is going to inherit, about the tragic circumstances that we now live within, but I also want to focus on the closeness and connections in my own life, to savor the last bits of summer while it lasts and then the smell of backyard fires at night.

Is it possible to record a memory without changing the meaning of the event? Nostalgia adds certain qualities and cancels out others. It can weaken art into cliche, but also heightens the senses. I am drawn to a certain kind of intimacy and vulnerability in image-making. If the audience is me, I want to embrace this sentimentality without presence, and to allow my images to be all things at once.



Glowing autumn leaves and a visit to Fiesta Mexicana




Art jewelry by Joyce Scott and my feet outside at Cylburn




North Avenue at 3 pm and a "Skully" drawing by Clifford Owens at CPM




Our Halloween decorations and Issue 10 next to my grandparent's barware




Purple brussel sprouts and soccer




My feet in the sun and a neighborhood walk at night




Giant lemons growing indoors at Rawlings Conservatory and Christmas decorations




Homemade eggnog and Ice at Oregon Ridge




Playing with old drawings and winter hike in the country




My first visit to the Rawlings Conservatory!




Projection at C+C by Miguel Braceli and curious fuzzy seed pods in my neighborhood




All the books keeping me company and stuff in my backyard




Poems by Chelsea Minnis and my "crowning" COVID-19 accomplishment: crazy long hair




House plants and Dogs outside in the spring weather


Spring is finally here. Is my attention span even worse now than it was last spring? As my COVIC-19 anniversary approaches I wonder if I am supposed to recognize it in some way? People still ask me how I’m doing, if I am a long hauler, and I don’t think so? I assume my brain fog and forgetfulness is from a lack of interaction with the outside world.

A lucky break on the same day, a year later, that I entered the hospital in 2020: there is an extra vaccine available and I make an appointment! Does this mean I can go back into the world like a normal person? What are the rules for future social engagement and interactions? Will I be able to take meetings in person and travel again? Do I even want to? How much of me is different now than a year ago and how much is the same?






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