In March came the quarantine. Homebound under the governor’s orders, my only escape was an Apple orchard of electronics – MacBook. iPhone. iPad. – my world flattened to screens. I was now a college professor whose domain had shrunken from a classroom to a Zoom URL, students admiring the lush wall of plants in my living room. As a single-unwed-childless-petless woman with no roommates, I found my social life relocated fully to social media.
By April, my digital ennui ran deep, but I could find no suitable tech-free distraction to float through the hours confined at home. I made daily attempts at improving my read-to-unread book ratio, but my anxious mind insisted on drifting from the page. Often, my attention broke mid-paragraph and I’d be back online checking for breaking news of a Covid cure that wasn’t coming anytime soon, or peering at posts made by friends I used to spend quality time with IRL.
During the smallest of small talk in my Instagram DMs with a poet friend, I casually mentioned I’d been considering getting back into collage, but I didn’t know where to start. He rattled off suggestions for software, so I clarified, no, actual physical collaging. “Minda,” he wrote, “just order some old magazines off eBay and do it.”
Maybe the issue wasn’t that I didn’t know where to start, but that I didn’t know how not to feel like a poser. At some point in my adult life, art had become a thing for people who were already good at art. I didn’t have those concerns 20 years ago as a teenager stuck at home against my will, not yet old enough to drive, and the internet not yet all-consuming. Back then, I was obsessed with magazines. Sassy, YM, and Seventeen (which somehow felt so much cooler than Sixteen). I read every article; I took every quiz.
Then, I’d glide scissors along slick pages, cutting out words and images and pops of color that felt like they meant something to me. I’d stroke the backsides of the cuttings with an Elmer’s glue stick, then place each piece just so on a large white poster board until there was no white left to see. I spent hours on my bedroom floor hunched over, cutting and gluing. Lupe Fiasco, Linkin Park, and Limp Bizkit playing in the background on my cheapie no-name five-disc changer stereo system. I covered my bedroom walls in collages. My friends would enter my room and gawk. My father said it looked like “the inside of a hobo’s box”. There’s some discrepancy in our memories regarding whether I consented to my collages making their way from my room to the garage and out to the curb on trash day after I left home for college.
In April I didn’t order magazines off eBay like my poet friend suggested. Instead, I rounded up the magazines scattered throughout my place, and my sister’s roomie gifted me some old NatGeos. This time, I went small – blank postcards over poster board. I upgraded from Elmer’s to Mod Podge. Instead of scissors, an X-Acto knife. I moved my desk lamp to my kitchen table and put on some lo-fi beats. It wasn’t long before the same zen state I experienced at fifteen overtook me. The hours slipped by without a single urge to check my phone.
As a writer, I found there was something freeing about indulging in a completely different creative pursuit where I had no expertise and no audience. But it wasn’t long before I wrote down a list of loved ones to send my creations to. At first, I worried they’d find my artsy-craftsy missives cheesy, but I let all the memes I kept seeing about purchasing stamps to save the US Postal Service sway me. Mailing out my pandemic postcards felt like a good opportunity to buy postage stamps and put them to good use.
I sent a blue, melancholy whale collage postcard to my baby sister as a housewarming gift. I sent a flower-and-fire collage postcard to a friend, congratulating her on her move to Colorado and her new job. I made a few more, but quarantine in Louisville lifted and my pandemic life expanded beyond my four walls up before I could ship them out.
Eventually, my sprawled-out cuttings and art supplies migrated from my kitchen table to a tidy pile in a corner. I hope another 20 years doesn’t pass before I return to the joy to be had in paper, adhesive, a blade and the patience to piece myself whole again. As the days grow shorter, the weather colder and the predications of a second wave of the virus become a reality, I hope my collages complete a reverse migration from their corner back to my kitchen table where they can serve as sustenance for the long winter ahead of us.
Minda Honey lives in Louisville, Kentucky, and her words live on the internet.