This time last year, I was writing about 2020 as the “year of vision.” If anything, 2020 was a year of re-vision as we watched a new version of the world unfold.
The idea of 20/20 vision was an attempt to offer a focal point for the year—a challenge in even the best of times. That soon proved to be beside the point. It’s hard to find a focal point in a year without a center.
In spring, teaching remotely without childcare wasn’t so much a blur as an indecipherable smudge, though the science fiction film class I taught stands out since we were living in sci-fi times.
Summer was full-swing “quarantime,” though our staycation of daily films, dishes, and music from around the world was a great coping mechanism. We imagined a future world that looked something like the one we used to know, and we used the arts to help us create order and meaning out of chaos.
We planted a small garden, destroying the perfect suburb grass the previous owner had worked so hard to maintain. It’s wonderful to watch the tangle of tomatoes take off—our most successful crop since root rot and squash bugs took most everything else. But before, when the flowering plants were still full of possibility, Ariel and I spent mornings observing the bugs they attracted—and the birds attracted by the bugs.
We soon turned back to school work, trying to prepare for a semester whose particulars we didn’t know. In August the on-campus forward march into the semester began, a sensation akin to the burning one feels after prolonged numbness: you just have to endure it. Time was collapsing and expanding—two days could be two minutes, or conversely, as Emily Dickinson said, “Eternity in an hour.” My feet hardly touched the ground—I was held up by all the external forces pushing in.
2020 wasn’t all bad. We connected with friends and family in new ways. We enjoyed the quiet of no place to be. Though I didn’t make it through my 2020 reading list, I did read other books—hundreds and hundreds of times—to Ariel. I collected old family recipes and made my grandmother’s famous lemon bars (and found out the recipe actually came from my aunt).
One night as Ariel was stalling before bedtime, she asked me, “Can we go to the moon?” I told her it was pretty far, that I didn’t know if we’d be able to reach it. She replied with confidence and conviction: “Mom, we’re going to need wings.”
I spent a lot of time with my three-year-old, who believes anything is possible with the right tools. She hasn’t learned that some things, once broken, can’t be fixed. During a pandemic, it’s nice to live with someone with such optimism.
It seemed to me something like Icarus might have said to Daedalus as they were stuck in prison. Daedalus’s wings would have worked had Icarus not flown too close to the sun, melting the wax. The myth can be interpreted as a cautionary tale for not reaching too high or daring too much. But director Stanley Kubrick, who often created the technology he needed to achieve a certain visual effect in his films, had another perspective—maybe we should simply build better wings.
My daughter reminds me, day-in and day-out, of how imagination helps us find another way forward by giving us another way of seeing. May 2021 be a year of better wings.