It was as unexpected as the pandemic- going gray I mean. I hadn’t planned on it. For 15 years I doused my hair with Clairol Natural Instincts # 4 dark brown. Just like not planning on going gray, I had not planned on ever coloring my hair in the first place. Then one day when I was 50 the lady at the pool counter asked if I wanted a senior pass.
I let my hair grow out, again unexpected, and unplanned. Closed salons meant getting a haircut was not possible. So after years of stylishly short hair, I now sport a mid-length gray mop.
I hardly recognize myself anymore but I barely recognize the world I live in of face masks, lockdowns, and a sobering death toll. I barely recognize this country after four years of political and social turmoil.
Gray is a color that is neither black nor white but something in between. It’s all gray now, a state of waiting, everything shrouded in a fog of uncertainty. When will I be vaccinated? When will this isolation end? When can I have my old life back?
In the matter of hair, gray signals more the end than the beginning. My graying head has become a personal symbol of my mortality but I’m not afraid of it. I’m going wild and just letting me be who I am without a care. Write, draw, scribble, sing loud- it’s all good.
When we can all talk about this era in the past tense and even laugh a little, I will remain gray. There’s no way I can go back. There’s no way we can go back. From inequity to racism too much has been exposed. There can be no more cover-ups.
At the end of San Antonio Road, past the shopping centers, apartments, and freeway, across from the Google parking lot, the pavement stops and the wetlands begin. This is the Baylands a world of dikes, ponds, and meanders, where the San Francisco Bay meets land. Here the ebb and flow of the tide replaces the rhythm of rush-hour. Here waterfowl out number people. When family business calls me back, this is where I go to find refuge.
Equipped with my binoculars and bird book I set out on the dike trails to take a wander and look at birds on this rare sunny, pleasant, February day. I come upon a wonderland of shorebirds, and all manner of ducks. There’s a flutter of excitement as the tide ebbs exposing fresh mud. Greater yellow legs, and avocets gather to probe for a meal. In the water, ducks dabble for food, dropping their heads into the water and then tipping upside down exposing their derrieres to the sky like a circus act. Some ducks are divers, dissapearing momentarily from the water’s surface as they fly underwater for their prey.
On a far bank, a passle of pelicans sit pruning their white feathers with their huge bills. A great egret poses for me graciously by the water’s edge.
Suddenly, a murmuration of dowitchers fly over me so close I can hear the force of their feathers. then land in the water with a satisfying plop. Two swift flying merlins exchange prey in the sky.
In the doldrums of this pandemic my creative image energies are ebbing more than flowing. It’s times like this at times all I can muster is to tidy up. Usually that involves just organizing my workspace. Then after years of procrastination I faced down the leaning pile of old cardboard portfolios full of aging class artwork and design projects that lurked in my closet. The problem is when you hang onto old work there’s really no room for new- physically or metaphorically.
Bye-bye charcoal nudes, bye-bye watercolors, bye-bye drawings. Yep you were “A” quality, fun, but at this point, are not doing anyone any good including myself. And woe to my son who would be stuck sorting them out when I’m packed up to the Rock of Ages Rest Home. The recycling bin is full. I have a well stocked collage box and plenty of classy bookmarks as souvenirs. I took pictures of the T-shirts I designed and donated them to a thrift store where someone can put them to use.
Bidding farewell to old creative work of any kind is like saying goodbye to parts of oneself- but thinking about it, all that hard work and practice is still with me deeply embedded in the work I do today. When I peruse all those past efforts I think of them as either good or bad but merely steps along the path to where I am as an artist today.
We are but at some total of all our work and practice. The beat goes on.