By Olivia McDonald
At the start of the 2020 Coronavirus Pandemic- affectionately referred to as the beginning of the unprecedented times- we, as a global community, were suddenly forced to pause, reflect, evaluate and shine a light on the aspects of life that many of us had not yet called into question. I use the term ‘many of us’ from the perspective of a 20-something college student, who was set on a nearly definite path to what had become, at the time, the riskiest job on the market: a nurse. While prior to the pandemic I felt a sense of constant optimism about the field of nursing, it would be a disservice to myself to say I was not met with sudden doubts about my future. I had doubts that my mental health could handle what had become indefinite grief, and I had concerns that world of nursing would change, and so would I.
The idea of prioritizing mental health, especially for college students, is greatly encouraged. While this sounds wonderful, it is harder in practice. So, what happens when the world shuts down, resources disappear, and the world goes into isolation?
With my junior year behind me, and senior year so drastically reconfigured, I began thinking about how I would cope with all that I had experienced during my time working in the hospital and in isolation from my peers. Like most people during the beginning of the pandemic, I felt the need to find activities to occupy myself, and cope with the isolation. During this time, I took the opportunity to get back into activities that I enjoyed. I jogged almost daily; I meditated; I made coffee; I tried to bake; I downloaded Tik Tok and I consumed more Netflix movies than I am sure is healthy. But one of the most meaningful projects that I dove into was revisiting art. I had not created, or rather had time to create, art since my adolescence. I shied away from picking up a canvas or a brush out of fear that art was something that I did as a child, and period of creation was behind me. However, I believe that at the right time, the universe in all of its chaos will offer a chance at new things and even a second chance for the things we think are gone. While scrolling on Pinterest, as one does, I came across collages.
This form of art is reminiscent of the Dada movement, in that is meant to be satirical and can be paired with a message. Additionally, during a time of such high social and political tension, I was especially intrigued and my creative curiosity was sparked! Suddenly, I wanted to create again! I wanted to produce a visual representation of all the feelings left unsaid, the things that my peers and I felt, and put them into the world. I began finding fashion catalogs from the 60s and 70s that were bright in color, and photos from the Library of Congress that I could use to transform a picture and create a message. It was amazing to see the life that bloomed from simple, sometimes mundane images.
I believe I found myself through collage. I previously thought that trying art again would mean I would ultimately reject the straight and narrow path I was on: schooling, graduation from higher education, and following the clinical ladder to become a nurse. I have since changed my perspective and found that there are ways to incorporate art in everyday life. I found myself in doing what I loved, and have realized that in some ways, it helps others to do the same.
And so, I leave you with this. A small sentiment that inspired me to create, reflect and revisit the craft I love. After all, the universe will offer a sign when you need it the most.
“’Finding yourself’ is not really how it works. You aren’t a ten-dollar bill in last winter’s coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. ‘Finding yourself’ is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.” -Emily McDowell
See more of Olivia’s work on Instagram at @closertocatharsis