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Postcards from the Pandemic III (Pushing Boxcars)

Updated: Mar 16, 2021

Purple Mountain Passage, 2019

By Bobby Padilla for the Roc Paint Sip Catalog

Acrylic on canvas, 10” x 20”

Train Smoke, 1900

By Edvard Munch

Oil on canvas

It’s roughly been a month since the state issued an executive order to shelter in place. The statistics from the Coronavirus here in New York are appalling. Acclimating to the new normal is not just a change in shopping habits, it’s a sobering realization that things may never go back to the way they were. I imagine this pandemic will create a whole new breed of germaphobe, even after hopefully finding a vaccine for this disease. I like to think of myself as an affectionate person. From hugs and high fives with students that I teach in high school to hugs of gratitude from customers at the end of paint parties. Simply guiding someone’s hand to show how to make a specific brush stroke or gently placing my hand on their shoulder and whispering “good job” at a paint party. Are hugs and handshakes gone forever? A casualty of Covid-19?

Railroad Train, 1908

By Edward Hopper

Oil on Canvas

I struggle to gain momentum or to really establish a routine. I go to bed and get up roughly the same times, but without assignments at the high school or paint parties to plan, with the gym being closed and restrictions on general errands and grocery trips, there’s no urgency to “do” anything. I am speaking on my own behalf, of course, and I’m not whining about it. It’s just that I never fully understood the weight of the momentum and gravity of everyday routines, despite of how laid back I thought my life was. A freight train holding all our precious cargo, dreams, responsibilities, personal baggage and choice passengers, all rumbling through the days on a calendar like the miles on a seemingly endless journey. When that train stops, be it by loss of grief or depression, health issues or even extended vacations, it’s hard to get that train moving again, it’s like pushing boxcars.

My wife works from home and has acclimated well, maybe too well. Those working from home have the unforeseen side effect of living their jobs 24 hours a day. When your dining room and couch have become your designated workspace, you never really leave the office. It has given me insight into how hard she works as a Benefit Resource Manager at a local healthcare facility. Trying to stay on top of the rights and restrictions of those employees being furloughed or on leave because of Covid-19, and how they can still provide for their families.

Train in Kakheti (circa 1910)

By Niko Pirosmani

Oil on oilcloth

My sons, on the other hand, have become nocturnal and somewhat feral. This doesn’t bode well in a small house. While “distance learning” has become the temporary standard or façade for learning, whichever you prefer, my sons have not taken it seriously. As parents we try to tighten the screws, but realistically what is the fallout from the 2020 academic school year? Are we really going to threaten our kids with the thought of being held back? I have a sophomore in community college and a senior in high school. My senior is dealing with the prospect of experiencing none of the memory making activities that come at the end of your senior year: Senior Ball, Senior Breakfast, Senior Skip Day, and oh yeah, Graduation Commencement! Do I really think that educational institutions are going to compound the pains and difficulties of a worldwide pandemic by failing our kids or making them repeat, I don’t think so.

Gauge Train, 2004

By Jacek Yerka

Pencil on cardboard

This is usually a good time of the year for business. Folks start planning paint parties for the summer. I get lots of call for corporate events and retreats. It’s also the time of the year I partner with local breweries and wineries to plan events. My phone hasn’t rung in more than a month. I struggle to with how to have the business remain relevant. I am trying to make step by step videos and post them on a newly created Roc Paint Sip YouTube channel, I suck at it, but I will keep trying. The glossy YouTube videos you indulge in about movie reviews or other nonsense are not just the post of that individual but rather the efforts of more than a few. While tripods, pro lighting and good microphones are basic tools, I have no way of seeing what the actual video looks like and what’s being recorded. So, for this particular type of video I can’t unpaint paintings if something happens during recording, like bumping the tripod off the subject matter or if my phone (yes, I’m doing this on my phone), just stops recording (because I received a text). I literally must start all over again. The irony is that just like at paint parties, it takes more than just me. Shannon and or either one of the boys help me to present a fun class while dispensing extra paint and fielding questions. I imagine I’ll have to enlist one of them as my “production crew”.

Train in Evening, 1957

By Paul Delvaux

Mixed media on canvas

Then I have the blog. At least I have a written forum to air my grievances. However, despite the overcast tone of this article, I really have none. I am as defined by the CDC as “non-essential”, and I’m fortunate to be just that. Other than strategic trips to the grocery and liquor store, I’m not required to jeopardize my health and well being working those jobs that are essential. I think about the steady stream of parties I’ve done with nurses and other healthcare providers, now on the frontlines of this pandemic. The groups of teachers who painted and sipped with me to blow off steam from their hectic everyday classrooms, who now have no daily physical interaction with their students, just email correspondences, phone calls or occasional facetime on their monitor or phone. I miss the laughter and stupid art puns, as well as the dumb dirty double entendres about how many "licks" it takes before your brush dries out, and how you must "keep it wet!” I miss how surprised someone is when they’ve finished a painting and can’t believe how it looks like what it was supposed to. Again, I miss the hugs and handshakes and gratitude at the end of each class.

The Train, Bedford Park, 1897

By Camille Pissarro

Oil on canvas

Now in the 6th year of this paint and sip thing, I’ve noticed certain trends. It seems that late winter early spring is my slow season. During which time I fret about business (more than usual) and wonder how to push forward. Then inevitably, business picks back up and stays strong though the rest of the year. This spring is very different, not for just me but for everyone. There are no sporting events, concerts, vacations, really any public gathering of any sorts. In a cruel twist of fate, everyone is having an indefinite staycation, but can’t have their friends or family over to paint, sip, celebrate, or anything else. Just slowly losing a grip on the greasy handle of Coronavirus reality. So, I’ll try to make videos of paintings. I’ll keep writing and hope I get new readers. As I contemplate the fragile state of my business, I’ll try not to feel like I’m standing on the edge of a commercial abyss. True, it’s time’s like this that you dig down deep for faith in what you’re worth. This spring is different, I don’t feel that sense of panic or bewilderment for Roc Paint Sip, even though there’s been a tectonic shift in how people are going to socialize now and possibly for the future to come. I do believe when we get to the other side of this pandemic, and we will, people will be starved for parties, it’s our nature. I have faith in that. For now though, I’ve got to go figure out this video thing, (I’ll keep you posted as to when I’m posting video content), I’ll try to have a half-assed work out in my garage, go for a walk, and do some chores, you know, all the things that keep us busy day in and day out. I’ve got to build up a head of steam and get behind this boxcar and push.

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