COVID and Me, or, What I’m Doing Now (inspired by Derek Sivers’ “What I’m Doing Now” project

“Now” isn’t just this moment, right now. “Now” began in the middle of March, when COVID-19 shut almost everything down and I stopped teaching at places I didn’t live in. Pretending it’s business as usual is pointless; wishing things could be otherwise, a waste of energy. There’s no choice but to accept the here and now—a “here” that means everywhere on Earth, and a “now” that ain’t over yet. There’s no escape, except for the billionaires maybe but that’s another story. So, having passed through the acceptance phase, what I’m doing now is adjusting and adapting.

I can no longer teach classes in studio art—my students work on individual projects that require one-on-one in-person instruction—and whatever public speaking engagements I had scheduled are on hold. The eternal “money vs. time” issue has therefore been resolved for me. As with many others out there, my plate is less full these days.

Though for me personally, this gift of time (together with the attendant luxury of sleeping and waking up whenever I feel like) couldn’t have come at a better time. My book The Art of Looking at Art is set for release this August, and end of March/beginning of April was exactly when I needed to be sending out review copies, contacting venues for book talks, sending press releases to museum shops and bookstores, and etc. etc. etc. My next order of business was to look for more work—commissions, private lessons, lecture opportunities—and to expand the scope of my online instruction. This was an undertaking I’d purposely put off until the spring, the book being my main priority. And so, the first few weeks of my “now” were as busy as ever. However, the abundance of free time allowed me to take care of all that business I had to take care of anyway a lot more quickly, and with a lot fewer complications. My efforts have begun to pay off, although it’s pretty obvious I won’t be making any personal appearances in the near future.

I haven’t exhausted every available opportunity to promote my book and find jobs, but I’ve done all I can for the time being. (Trust me here. I’m nothing if not thorough.) So in the “now” that means right now, my swath of unfettered time is the gift that keeps on giving.

Another of my little projects for March was to clean out my studio. As thrilled as I am about my book coming out, I’ve made hardly any art over the past seven years, and the fact that I now have the opportunity to fill the bulk of my time with an activity that I love doing, that I’ll never get tired of doing, and that I can do in the confines of my apartment proves that some good can come out of even the direst circumstances. I haven’t been bored for even a minute since the lockdown started.

I’m not living in a dream world, selfishly pretending that just because I’m fundamentally okay everything is. I’m deeply saddened by the suffering the pandemic has caused, concerned that more of us—including, possibly, someone I know—will die, and outraged that too many of our elected officials (whose primary responsibility is to their constituents, lest anyone forget) have proven themselves to be clueless, inept bunglers whose only concern is the economy and their stake in it. I’m aware that many people right now are overwhelmed financially or health-wise, bearing the burden of family responsibilities, the fear of losing everything they own, or their designation as an essential worker.

But for those of us who are more or less safe and sound, this time of isolation and quiet is actually a golden opportunity. To learn a new skill. To read about something you've always wondered about. To help improve the current state of affairs. To get political. To think and self-reflect. To do anything but gripe about being sick of watching movies on Netflix. You have only to seek out these opportunities and act on them.

Meanwhile, it seems useless to worry about a future I can’t control or foresee. All I know is that I’m here in the present. If there’s one thing this disease has shown us, it’s how foolish and futile it is to make plans assuming they’ll work out. The release of my book may be delayed, the promotional events I worked so hard to get may be cancelled, I may suffer hard times ahead. The bad guys might win in the end; that happens sometimes too. The Great Depression was a field day for the wealthy, who were able to buy up stocks for next to nothing knowing they would rebound in the future. On the other hand, possibly there’ll be an equal and opposite reaction to this awful state of affairs, and we’ll be that much the better for it. It’s been theorized that the Black Death helped bring about the Renaissance. We’ll simply have to wait and see.

So I’ll continue to accept, adjust, and adapt. To be grateful for my gift of time (for as long as I have it), and all the other gifts I’ve been given. And to hope for the best.

Gene Wisniewski

May 9, 2020