New Year’s Newsletter: Reaching for Hope through Art in Difficult Times

Sally Wiener Grotta's January 2021 newsletter
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Happy New Year and Welcome to the (soon-to-be, I hope) New Roaring Twenties

What a rollercoaster ride we’ve been on since my last new year’s newsletter. I hope you and yours are well, and finding reasons to smile despite the strange and difficult times we’re experiencing.

Since the initial March lockdown, I’ve been sheltering in place in my comfortable bunker (as I’ve come to call my home), alone with my dog Shayna. While I had some bad spells (who didn’t?), I managed to keep a somewhat even keel by choosing to treat the whole episode as an extended writing retreat. Up until last Wednesday, the words were flowing rather well, including making a decent dent into the first draft of a new novel Women of a New Moon.

Throughout my isolation, I often fantasized about what it will be like once I’m released. I imagined all of us being freed from fear by vaccinations, so that we can safely gather with (and hug!) family and friends, dance to live music, and mix with strangers in theaters, restaurants and art gallery openings. As I had written in a previous newsletter:

I crave the fellowship of artists, writers and all kinds of creative thinkers…. I need them almost as much as I need air and water and chocolate…. It helps me see beyond my here and now, and inspires me to reach deeper and wider in my own work.

It’s this craving that gave me hope. I was sure that others must feel the same, just as folks from 100 years ago did when they were freed from the terrors of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. Back then, the sudden release of tensions resulted in creative thinkers of all kinds exploring new ideas and inspiring each other to develop revolutionary works that still excite us. The collaborations and competitions, the innovations and creative wild abandon that shook the art world was the most lasting effect of the roaring 1920s. Certainly, I decided, the same would have to be true at the other end of this Covid-19 tunnel.

So, last Monday, on January 4th, I wrote a rather optimistic essay Welcome to the (soon-to-be) Roaring Twenties.

Two days later, our world turned upside down when domestic terrorists attacked the heart of our democracy. Beyond the devastation we all felt and are continuing to feel, I began to question the current relevance of my seemingly pollyannish dreams in the face of such staggering events.

It took an email from David Zarko, the playwright, to remind me that these are the times that we most need the arts. David is creating a play based on my husband Daniel Grotta’s novella Honor. Unfortunately, the project has been stalled for a while. But as David wrote to me:

“The themes of honor, duty, regard for others, and kindness that the story promotes are what is needed right now.”
Then, he added, “A good, resonant, truthful story has enormous power, more power than the demagogue or would-be autocrat. We are storytellers. Let’s get back to work.”

Of course, David is right. Now more than ever, we need the arts, not just to help lift our spirits, but to inspire creative thinking in all aspects of our lives, and to stand as examples of what human beings should be and can achieve. And we can’t wait until we can safely be in the same room; the new Roaring Twenties have to start now. Let our brainstorming and mutual inspirations set us off into new directions, to develop innovations not only in the arts, but also in business, manufacturing, education, and maybe even in government. What the innovations will be, I have no idea, but that’s the point of creative synthesis. And that’s why the twenties will roar.

What innovations do you think will develop in the next few years? How do you think the arts will help us to achieve them?

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