BY KATE WALTER | A month before the lockdown in New York City, I attended a retreat at my church in the East Village and we made vision boards.
As we sat at tables in the social hall, I clipped photos and headlines from magazines and glued them onto a poster. The idea was to envision what we wanted for the coming year. After I came home, I rolled up the board and stored it in a safe place. It disappeared into the back of my mind as the coronavirus closed down the city in March 2020. I had more urgent things to focus on, like staying safe.
To keep my sanity during the lockdown, I wrote essays about my lonely predicament as a single gay woman living alone in the epicenter. My busy social life vanished within weeks. No lunch dates. No parties. No museums. No bookstores.
I live in Westbeth Artists Housing in the West Village, a lively complex that was gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2020. For years, I enjoyed the many free or inexpensive activities in our community room. I took yoga classes and belonged to a singing group. I attended readings and concerts. I drank wine and socialized at openings in our beautiful gallery. I volunteered at our famous flea market in the basement.
But that all shut down or moved onto Zoom. The community room closed and the gallery went dark. The active community of Westbeth turned into a ghost town as residents left town or retreated into their apartments.
I worried how COVID would impact my building. Would more names than usual pop up on the “death board”? Westbeth is a NORC (a naturally occurring retirement community) with many senior citizens still making art into their 70s, 80s, even their 90s. Whenever someone dies, neighbors post a photo and a bio; memories and tributes appear on this bulletin board in the main lobby.
While others went Upstate, I stayed in the city ensconced in my sunny loft and kept documenting pandemic life in Westbeth and my neighborhood. My efforts to chronicle this unprecedented time resulted in a memoir in essays. I tracked life in Westbeth from March 2020 to June 2021, when we honored the building workers, who kept us safe, with a celebration in the courtyard. They got a standing ovation and a bonus.
Things started to trickle back to normal as New York City reopened over the course of 2021. I went to an opening at the Westbeth gallery in October. (Everyone had to be vaccinated.) I chatted with neighbors and drank wine in the courtyard, where the bartender had moved his setup. It was a lovely fall evening. I felt happy again.
On December 1, I gave a reading in the Westbeth community room. (Everyone had to be vaccinated and wear masks.) A piano player entertained as I sold and signed books. When I took off my mask to read, the audience laughed in the right places.
Over the next few weeks, as my fellow residents digested my book, they gave me feedback about our mutual experience: “This is so on target”… “You really nailed our experience at Westbeth.”
Residents who missed the reading and bought my book online stopped by my place to ask me to sign it. Or they invited me to their apartments for tea and a private signing. I exchanged my memoir with a poet who had a new chapbook out this year. This was fun and I got to know some of my neighbors better.
But as Omicron surged through the month of December, this window of opportunity to socialize was closing. I’d squeezed my reading event in just under the wire. Even our Christmas caroling outside in the courtyard was canceled.
I started preparing for another long winter. As I was getting my humidifier out of storage, I found the vision board shoved behind an appliance in a corner.
After what I’d gone though, I was extra curious about what it contained.
I got the chills when I read one of the magazine clippings I’d pasted onto my vision board almost two years ago. It said, “The Story of the Building.” Wow.
My pandemic memoir is mostly set in my building, Westbeth. What struck me at first was that I had no recollection of what I intended when I glued this on. What was I thinking? As I mulled this over, I thought maybe I planned to focus on the building’s 50-year history and its legendary artists. So my vision of a Westbeth story evolved into a totally different saga I could never have imagined then.
The other desires on my board I understood clearly. “A New York Romance.” (Nope. That did not happen, although I had one bad date last summer.) “Get More Sleep.” ( Nope. My insomnia got worse during the pandemic. ) “Cool Road Trips.”
(Nope. I took train trips to the Jersey Shore but didn’t drive anywhere.) “Live Your Best Life.” (Nope. No way could I describe these past two years as my best life.)
I was into the law of attraction years before the pandemic, when content about manifestation went viral on Instagram and TikTok, getting billions of views.
As I studied my vision board more closely, I noticed that right above “The Story of the Building” I had pasted “Get Noticed and Make Connections.” That had also come true and the two sayings seemed related.
What to make of this? Some stuff became real but some did not. But what did happen (the book) was very cool, and unexpected. It amazed me that I could manifest anything during the pandemic. Now that I may be staying inside more (ugh, again), I’ll definitely create a vision board for 2022.
Walter is the author of “Behind the Mask: Living Alone in the Epicenter” (Heliotrope Books).