The Ledger, ©Iskra Johnson
The year: no summary statements can do it justice. Instead, I offer an image, just one: “Ledger.” It began as an exploration of the Mourning Theorems of early American folk art. There was a willow tree. There was the idea of velvet, of fruit baskets arranged and lovingly drawn in another light, (perhaps the pale lyric light of spring,) and of women in “drawing rooms”: women young, old, perilously middle-aged, sometimes barren, but women regardless, perhaps surrounded by thirteen children, or perhaps feeding biscuits to one tottering and garrulous German shepherd in some log cabin shack on the great plains; women reaching for the sewing basket on New Years Eve as muskets went off on the horizon and the men stormed around drunk.
For years I had a ritual of sewing on New years Eve. I had an actual woven reed basket, knee-high, and in it was a stack of clothes going back, and back . . . to the first threadbare jeans and the first embroidered patch on a knee in denim in the 8th grade. (I think I stitched a rainbow when I was 13, remember those?) At the bottom of the basket was a clown my mother made of socks and Mid-Century Modern fabrics, split down the middle between black and white and color, a harlequin icon of her day, when a housewife had a choice of valium and the vacuum cleaner or dancing to Chubby Checkers in the afternoon and writing letters to the editor. I never could figure out the sock part.
No matter how many years I lived and stitched there remained the New Years Eve memory of some parent playing Dave Brubeck on vinyl in a timeless pocket of the ‘50’s or ‘60’s. Dave Brubeck reached through the ages to meld the 20th century together with the 17th, as though time was always going on and had never stopped, guided by the soft shush of the snare and the brush and the insouciant saxophone and the sense of light in an attic reaching through the clouds and coming down to touch everything with a benign blessing.
I could not reconcile this time, in which I am living and have lived, with the velvet drawing rooms and fruit arrangements and the sorrowing empire-waisted women of old and still include the willow. And so the willow disappeared along with the gowned damsels and tombstones and the stone bridge and in its place the lake emerged with its distant shore and the various actors cast in the confounding amber of this strange year of Alone Together: The Pandemic Calamity. I still can’t quite believe we are living through this time and, alas, it is not quite over.
What I hope for is the light of water and clouds, the restorative powers of nature, and for the grace of reflection. As I was sewing on all those New Years’ pasts I was reflecting on the year as it changed from old to new and what was gained and lost: The Ledger. What is on each side in your ledger of the year? What was gained in solitude or its antonym, and what was lost? I know some who follow my blog are medical workers, others are parents, and solitude was hard if not impossible to find. How did you escape? What new connections emerged? What did you let go? Where did you find joy? Did you walk, did you bake, did you reach into your sewing basket to make masks? Leave a comment, send me a letter, I’d love to know how the year finds you and what you see ahead.
All best in 2021,