‘This year has been monumentally tragic, but also enlightening’

Photo by Anthony Di Biase

Gigi Mall, 43, is a bartender and manager at Blyth & Burrows in Portland’s Old Port, where she is known affectionately to staffers as “Mama Bear.” The Portland resident has two children – Isabel, 21 and Devon, 17. This year has brought unexpected heartbreak, from the sudden death of her boyfriend, Jason, to the death of her brother just before Christmas. Mall has had her share of health problems, including contracting COVID-19. But the year also brought unexpected healing.

“This year has been monumentally tragic, but also an enlightening year for me,” Mall said. “I lost my partner in July, unexpectedly. It was just like being stripped down of everything that you know and love. It was like being stuck in a furnace of despair and distress and helplessness and anxiety in the middle of (the pandemic). It was very, very hard.

“And then I caught COVID.

“I was down for two weeks, hard. It felt like I was continuously being run over by a train. I had a couple of days in the hospital for breathing treatments, and it was super scary because you’re completely alone. There are no visitors, and you have to be home alone.

“I finally tested negative (for COVID), I think, on a Wednesday. On the day I was supposed to go into work, I woke up and my throat was almost swollen shut. I had to go back to the doctor and this time I had a severe bacterial strep infection. I have no idea how I got it because I really wasn’t around anyone. It hit me so hard because my immune system was functioning at 75 percent at that time.

“I had to sit down with myself and the universe and be like, ‘OK, I just want to grow. Just use me as this vessel.’ It forced me to learn how to be alone and how to let go and move on and get out of my own way and be a little more understanding and compassionate with myself. … I found an empty (journal) and I started writing. I also started dancing in my living room. It was the only form of exercise that I had. There were great happy dances. There were really bad moments also, but I just kind of let my body tell me what it needed. And it needed to move. It needed to be expressive and creative again. That’s what helped me turn the page.

“I’m not grateful (for what) happened, but it has definitely strengthened me and given me an awareness that I would not have been able to have had I not experienced this year, that’s for sure. There were some beautiful, beautiful moments. I learned how to be a better friend. … And throughout all of this, I’ve learned that my joy is in all the small moments that I have with my family, my friend-family. I’m a 43-year-old single woman building my life with grown children, and I’m on my own. I have a strong tribe and a beautiful family, and I made it.”

– Meredith Goad

‘Especially in the beginning, everything was anxiety-ridden’

Photo by Ben McCanna

2020 was supposed to be a big year for Rachael Trefethen, 30, a Westbrook firefighter/paramedic of nine years. Her boyfriend, a Portland firefighter, proposed to her in December 2019, and the couple was looking forward to a destination wedding. Trefethen was also planning to focus more on the firefighting aspect of her career. Instead, she and other front-line workers have confronted the unknowns of practicing emergency care during a pandemic, both on 911 calls and at Westbrook’s COVID-19 testing site.

“A year ago this month, I got engaged. I was super excited to plan a wedding and to do all the wedding things,” Trefethen said. “We were supposed to get married in Aruba in October, and that didn’t happen. We pushed Aruba off to the future.

“It sucked, honestly, to have to make that decision and send out those letters and emails, to make those phone calls. We did a small ceremony with family and a few friends, but it was not at all what we had envisioned. I envisioned going to a tropical island. We did a small bridal shower, everything was smaller.

“(In March) I’d say half the time I was on the ambulance. It was honestly scary. You were being told multiple things a day, things would change daily. Everything we did, especially in the beginning, everything was anxiety-ridden. Everyone was so on the edge because we didn’t really know what we were dealing with. Now its a little bit different.

“It probably took a good, I’d say, maybe July, mid-July for myself to feel a little bit of a groove. Now we wear masks at the station no matter what. In the beginning it was such a drastic change. I never wore face masks with patients. To be able to read people’s facial expressions, for them to be able to read mine, that was a big change.

“(My husband) is in the same field, and I’m thankful for that because we’re able to talk through a lot of stuff and he understands where I’m coming from. It probably doesn’t make it any easier for our family, because that’s two people working around sick people.

“Working at the swabbing site has given me a chance to see a whole different population. Usually when we’re called with 911, it’s an emergency, we see people on their worst days.

“(At the testing site) we see people who find out their first grandbaby was born, and they want to get a test so they can go be safe and visit and celebrate these life events.

“We just had a girl come through, it was her birthday, so we came out and sang happy birthday to her and gave her a fire department hat. It makes this whole craziness a little bit easier to deal with.

“I think 2020 was the year we persevered. We got through it, what we all joked about as the dumpster fire of years.

– Matt Byrne

‘One of my biggest things is to always have hope’

Photo by Ben McCanna

Tyreek Rose, 17, is a senior at Noble High in Berwick with aspirations of playing college football. When the pandemic forced the cancellation of the high school tackle football season, he didn’t grouse. Instead, he was able to play 7-on-7 touch football and put together a highlight film as a wide receiver for college coaches. Rose has raised his grades despite most of his classes being remote. And he improved  his relationships with his family while staying at home. Rose also participated in some Black Lives Matters protests.

“For me, personally, (2020) has just been a year for growth,” Rose said. “You don’t have sports, but this is the year where I really got to work on my academics, getting my grades up. At this point last year I was more of a B and C student. So this has been a time where I can really focus on school and can bring my grades back up so that I can be that A and B student that I’m used to being. And it’s been a time for me to look at film, grow, take time in the weight room, get bigger, faster, stronger and just to prep to go play college ball.

“I only go to school (for in-person learning) on Wednesday. The rest is all remote. It’s been really good. It’s a lot different adapting from going (to school) every single day to staying at home and being online all day. The workload, in my opinion, is a lot easier. And I really have time to get my work done and everything.

“(There’s) another plus to this whole COVID situation. You get to spend a lot more time with your family. And there’s bonds with my family that I have now that I didn’t have before because I’ve been with them so much these past few months.

“I think one of my biggest things is just to be optimistic, to always have hope. There’s always good in everything. There’s always a positive outlook you can have on it.

“It was (important to be involved with the social injustice movement). Personally I feel systemic racism exists throughout the United States. And I think it’s finally time we take a stand and take notice of that. My parents trust me. They know I’m not going to do anything stupid. They were proud I was out there standing up for what I believe in.

“The protests I’ve been to, people have come to us and disagreed with what’s going on and we talked to that, about what it stands for. It’s not all about the riots, it’s about coming together as a community and standing up to systemic racism. By the end of the protests, we had changed some minds.”

– Mike Lowe

‘It was a hard and isolating time, but it was really special too’

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Laura Serino, 36, works in marketing and lives with her husband, Alex, and their two young sons on North Haven. She found out she was pregnant on the day Maine’s safer-at-home order went into effect. She recently sold her business, Island Apothecary, after reassessing how she spends her time and what it means to be a working parent during the pandemic. Serino gave birth to her second son, Sullivan, on Nov. 14.

“The stay-at-home order happened, I found out I was pregnant, schools were closed, working was remote, all in one fell swoop,” Serino said. “I had a lot of fear, which certainly isn’t something you want to feel going into a pregnancy. I felt very nervous about what was going to transpire with the virus and how it would potentially affect someone that was pregnant.

“And I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with some excitement and joy, of course, but also the fact that my husband and I were working full-time jobs, I wasn’t feeling good, our son was home. Usually a pregnancy is when you rely on (extended) family to help, but we definitely couldn’t do that. … We were all sheltering at home and totally freaked out about what was going to transpire over the coming months.

“Where we live, we’re used to being isolated in the winter. The isolation really hit me in the summer when my husband was working long hours lobstering during his busy season and I didn’t have the usual onslaught of friends and family visiting. It was mostly just me and my son. Looking back on that, and even in the moment, in many ways it was very peaceful and special. Had we not been in a pandemic, I don’t think I would have had all that alone time with just me and my son.

“It was a really hard time and an isolating time, but it was really special too. I think a lot of parents feel that way about having spent so much time with their children. It certainly shifts your perspective about how important that is and how special it is. It was stressful, but it was a moment in time that forced us all to pause and spend more time with our children than a lot of us working parents get to do normally.

“Having a baby out here on the island is actually very special because this is such a small community and people really go out of their way when a new baby comes home with these extensive meal trains and people stopping by to visit and hand off hand-me-downs. In being respectful to any new baby now, that is not an option anymore. It’s a little isolating. Feeling like you’re bringing home a new baby and they’re not really a part of the community yet is very hard for sure. … For now, it’s just the four of us.”

– Gillian Graham

‘We should still be protesting … we can’t get comfortable’

Photo by Derek Davis

Ayanna Stover, 20, lives in Wiscasset with her grandmother. She planned to spend this year studying dance at Pace University in New York, working at a Maine theater in the summer and performing as a character at Disney World this fall. Instead, she threw herself into organizing with Black Lives Matter Maine. Stover is Black and Greek.

“My friends who planned on moving to New York City,” Stover said, “we’ve sort of lost – I don’t want to say lost interest, because I don’t think that’s it at all — but musical theater isn’t the path that we want to take with our performing arts anymore. … I’m deciding that I maybe just want to dance in music videos and go on tour with artists. I also think that a lot has been brought to light within the musical theater community when it comes to racism and whitewashing and all of that stuff. And I’ve experienced that stuff before personally, and I just feel like once all that started coming out, I started seeing how non-inclusive the musical theater community is.

“I had seen the video of George Floyd. I had always really tried to avoid watching the videos of Black people being slaughtered by police, but I saw it on Twitter, and I watched it. And it really, it was awful. Like, I can’t even describe the feeling that I felt after seeing that video. I heard about the protest in Portland, and I told my grandmother, I have to go. I feel like everything is coming to a head right now, politically, racially. I just need to go to these protests. I went, and then I started going to every protest, and I started speaking at them. I don’t want to say I liked it, because I’m out there protesting for my rights and my life, and that’s not great that I have to do that. But it’s nice to call for change and to help be that change.

“I definitely think being stuck at home, people had more time to sit there and have to think about this stuff. I think about it all the time, being half Black. … But some people feel like they’re too busy with their own lives to care about the fact that there is so much embedded racism in our society and in this country. They just don’t want to think about it. I’m glad it’s finally happening, upset that it took a pandemic to do it.”

“I don’t think we should stop taking the same action that we’ve been taking just because Joe Biden is elected. … I think we should still be protesting, and we should be going as hard as we were over the summer. We can’t get comfortable.”

– Megan Gray

‘I was a hugger. I’m very social and that’s been hard’

Photo by Ben McCanna

Karen Perry, 79, of Portland has learned how to cope with her physical disabilities, the ongoing effects of a stroke and a fall 11 years ago that caused a brain injury, and still maintain an active lifestyle. She describes herself as a social butterfly, but the pandemic – and three emergency room visits because she had fallen – has made 2020 a difficult, isolating year for the retired artist, who for many years had a studio and taught art in Falmouth. Perry has found some comfort in Zoom chats but misses the interpersonal connections she had developed.

“People like to email and phone and sometimes I just like to see people in person and touch them and hug them,” Perry said. “I was a hugger. I got to know all the people in Portland and I’m very social and that’s been hard.

“When I fell in my apartment and went to the ER, three different times, that’s when the page turned for me. This has been really hard. Like yesterday, I went to physical therapy and I couldn’t do anything and my doctor just upped my antidepressant.

“And it’s very hard for me to accept that I was (diagnosed as) depressed for the first time. I was a single mom and dealt with that but all of a sudden it came on me after all those falls.

“I was talking about lack of motivation. I don’t want to do art work and I have a pile of writing. … But I still cook and today it was great to hear from everybody in Zoom that they’re struggling, too. We talked about depression and anxiety and that helped me in that it gets me in touch with I’m not alone. I know we’re told that but I need that.

“I miss being outside. I was a volunteer for Congress Square Park and I watered (plants) until I got so disabled. It’s hard for me to accept the disability and this year I couldn’t water, and last year I had to succumb to a walker and now they want me to use my walker in the apartment.

“I take regional transportation and I do my therapy and I had planned to see my doctor last week and had arranged a ride with regional transportation and (the doctor’s office) had no in-person visits. So I had telehealth with her. That’s an adjustment, too.

“I’m working on just accepting this and I’m so glad that this year is almost over. It’s a gift that it’s over. I don’t know what 2021 will bring but just to have this year over with will be refreshing.

“Right now I just work on the word ‘accept.’ That’s my goal right now.”

– Steve Craig

COVID-19 ‘still has the potential to overwhelm the system’

Photo by Ben McCanna

For Dr. Ranjiv Advani, 49, an emergency department physician at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, one of the hardest aspects of caring for COVID-19 patients is the difficulty in communicating with patients and not having patients’ family or friends at the hospital to talk to.

“When we have to change into full infectious disease suits before going into the same room as the patients, talking with the patients is difficult,” Advani said. “And we don’t have friends and families of the patients in the hospital anymore, because visitors aren’t allowed, as a way to reduce exposure to COVID-19.

“A lot of the joy of working in the ED is establishing that human connection.

“I’ve learned to cope and talk louder so the patients can hear them through my mask, but it’s much harder to convey non-verbal human expressions when wearing a mask. Without family or friends present, it’s more difficult to make decisions about care for the patient.

“We have still experienced camaraderie as a team, but when you think of other natural disasters, the way people cope is that social interaction. We have been missing that leg of the table.

“We are doing the best that we can, and even though Maine has seen a fall surge in cases, the state is still doing better than most states.”

Hospitals, including Mid Coast Hospital, are much busier with COVID-19 patients now when compared to the spring and summer, but not overwhelmed as they have been in some other states such as North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

“In the spring, people did a great job of ‘flattening the curve’ and that gave us time to put processes in place where we could have a surge plan,” Advani said. “In April and May, we had high anxiety levels at Mid Coast Hospital as we kept hearing many cases of health care workers falling ill of COVID-19 in other states. But because we didn’t have many patients at the start, that gave us time to get used to the safety protocols and fortunately we’ve had relatively few illnesses among health care workers.

“But people are getting tired of the pandemic, and gathering more, and now cases have increased and the hospital has become busier with COVID-19 patients.”

In early December, Mid Coast Hospital was averaging about four COVID-19 patients per day.

“My team is feeling the strain too, of working through the pandemic while caring for our own families.

“This second wave has put us right in the middle of it,” Advani said, noting that it could get much worse later this winter, depending on how well people adhere to rules of masking, social distancing and avoiding gatherings. “It still has the potential to overwhelm the system.”

– Joe Lawlor

‘I haven’t really had a day off since March 17’

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Weeks before the pandemic hit, Katie Pinard celebrated the seventh anniversary of Elements, the cafe, beer bar and bookstore she co-owns on Main Street in Biddeford. Things were looking up – a downtown rejuvenation Elements had helped spark was drawing young people and new businesses to the city, and the store became a place to network and make new friends. All that changed in mid-March. The store closed for more than two months before reopening for takeout only. The challenges this year made Pinard, 40, second-guess whether staying open was worth it – before deciding to stay the course.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a social creature,” Pinard said. “One of the last events we had at Elements before we had to close was our seventh anniversary. It was an incredible celebratory weekend, we made a collaboration beer with Bissel Brothers Brewing, we had people packed into the store for a party. … I’m glad we had that moment before the world fell apart. I carry that with me as something to get back to.

“It has been incredibly meaningful to hear what a gap was left in people’s lives when Elements closed. The real purpose of the shop as a gathering place, as a place people gravitate to when they move to Biddeford, that was not the intention when we opened Elements. It is not transactional, it is not about selling products, it is about what we are to the community. That inspired me to move forward, to find out how to survive so we can be that again.

“I haven’t really had a day off since March 17. I don’t know what a vacation looks like right now, I don’t know when and how it will be possible to really rest. This year has been so mentally and emotionally devastating, and it has only been in the last month I’ve really been able to get my head and start feeling a sense that we are going to get over this.

“Ironically, I think the collective nature of this trauma in some ways has helped me, because I’m not the only one experiencing the losses and the challenges. Everyone is experiencing a collective grieving process. Every restaurant and bar owner, every small business owner, is grappling with the hardest business decisions of their lives right now. In some ways that helps. I know we are trying to figure it out together.

“I feel good about our adaptability, I hope we never normalize a lot of what we experienced and I hope we really and truly allow ourselves to grieve the losses we had this year and not just reach for the vaccines and the new normal.

– Peter McGuire

Healing ‘moves in spirals and it zigzags and is messy’

Photo by Ben McCanna

Myles Bullen, 28, is a Portland musician, poet and artist who has suffered significant loss in 2020. His father, John Bullen, died at the end of February just weeks after his grandfather Robert Bullen passed away. When the pandemic struck in March, Myles had to cancel his North American tour that also included a show in London. He released his latest album, “Healing Hurts,” on Dec. 1.

“Music for me is not just entertainment, it’s a very cathartic, necessary thing for me to do in order to stay healthy in the head,” Bullen said. “The only thing I’ve ever used for a grieving process has been art. I used to be a drug addict. I’ve been in recovery for about nine years now.

“I’ve been losing people all of my life, especially because being so connected to substance use I’ve lost a lot. … So grieving has been a non-stop practice thing for me and finding healthy ways to deal with that is the goal. It’s not to not feel it, it’s just to know what to do when I feel it and what to do with the feelings. So I’ve always used art for that.

“(This year) I got offered some teaching gigs (via Zoom) and started teaching some creative writing classes for the Recovery Connections of Maine, which is a recovery center in Lewiston. That’s been one thing that’s been supporting me, and also just keeping me awake and alive and writing and connecting with people.

“I also make my own clothing and art and people are ordering that stuff. I’ve been going all in with the artwork and pushing myself as an artist. Now that performing isn’t as ideal (because of the pandemic), I’m going to focus on the things I can do.

“I got connected with Robert Bernheim (Ph.D, professor of History, Holocaust, Genocide & Human Rights Studies at the University of Maine at Augusta), who also teaches at Maine State Prison. He invited me to go perform for his students there. That was such a beautiful experience because after I performed we had this three-hour sit-down-in-a-circle conversation about trauma and about social justice. After we did that performance Robert was like, ‘Hey, I really want a consistent program here for these guys to work on,’ so I started teaching creative writing. We’ve been doing it over Zoom every week.

“I made (“Healing Hurts”) because I couldn’t not make it. Usually as an artist the goal is progress, to move forward. But trauma and healing isn’t linear. There is no like timeline. Healing is cyclical and it moves in spirals and it zigzags and is messy. I kind of knew that that was going to happen with this record. I knew that this wasn’t going to be my most polished, proud record but it’s actually gonna be an honest statement, timestamped, where I am right now.”

– Aimsel Ponti

‘I got really spooked and did not want to go into people’s homes’

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Erin Burgess is a 51-year-old carpenter who grew up on Chebeague Island, where her parents still live. After graduating from Greely High, she went to Boston for art school and remained there for the next two decades, until buying a home in South Portland in 2016. Since her former employer, Willard Square Home Repair, suspended operations in March (but passed along referrals), Burgess has been working on her own. She accepts only exterior projects during the pandemic.

“With Willard Square, it was anything and everything. You didn’t really know what you were going to be doing until that day,” Burgess said. “But you know, I got really spooked (by the coronavirus) and did not want to go into people’s homes. I wanted to minimize my contact with folks, and not just for myself. Everyone has the ability to spread it. A lot of the folks I work for are older retired people and I didn’t want to take any chances of getting people sick or getting sick myself.

“I much prefer being outside anyway than being inside. I mean, there are days when it’s cold and awful and really challenging, but I’m just an outdoor person, I guess.

“When the pandemic is over, I look forward to doing other kinds of projects. I really enjoy doing finish carpentry and built-ins and cabinetry. Hopefully at some point it will be safe to be together and be inside with other folks and I can do some of those projects.

“Even though there’s been plenty of work, there’s still that nagging anxiety of ‘When’s it going to dry up?’ So there are worries about that and trying to manage my own show, whereas before it was managed for me, which was kind of nice.

“My parents, I saw them in October and over the summer I saw them a few times. They’re a young 75. Thankfully, they’re in good health. I have a friend who has a boat and we would take the boat out there. I didn’t want to ride the ferry. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I didn’t want to be potentially spreading anything to anyone.

“I’ve hung out outside with my friends maybe three or four times since the whole virus started. I miss going out to eat. I miss going to the movies. I miss just being able to relax. It’s exhausting to maintain that level of awareness and vigilance and care.

“There have been a couple of times where I’ll go to look at a job and I’ll have to basically say, ‘Would you mind putting on a mask?’ Sometimes I’ll get eye rolls and that kind of thing, but for the most part people have been responsible. We all have to pull together and everyone has to do their part.”

– Glenn Jordan

‘We were able to give kids some sense of normalcy’

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Terri Cooper moved to Maine with her husband, Kenneth, a retired police sergeant, after being named superintendent in Kennebunk-based Regional School Unit 21 this summer. They have two grown sons, Kendall and Kennedy, who live in North Carolina, where Cooper served as principal of an elementary school in the Charlotte area before taking her first job as a superintendent in 2020. Cooper, 56, lives in Arundel.

“I never had the opportunity to visit Kennebunk or to be in the state of Maine,” Cooper said. “I had always heard of its beauty, particularly in the fall, so I was pleased what everyone said was true. I saw the advertisement and I said, ‘Why not?’ and applied for the position, never thinking, to be honest, it would go this far.

“There was really no reservation – except one. Although I committed and said, ‘Yes, I would love to have this position,’ I’m a very family-oriented person and my parents are still in my hometown. My siblings are there. My children, although they’re adults, are there. My only reservation was about leaving my family. But after having a conversation with them – and this is just a testament to my parents and their consistent and ongoing support – my parents said, ‘No, you go. This is an opportunity for you.’

“The question has always been, ‘Why in the world when you chose to pursue a superintendency did you do it in the midst of a pandemic?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ I just knew I was supposed to be here and whatever my contribution will be I think it will be great in collaboration with everyone else. The pandemic is occurring across the country so regardless of where I was, that was not going to change, but I did feel like my presence here, along with the people here, that we could definitely make sense of this new normal that we have acclimated to sort of.

“During this time of challenge and adversity we could have gone two different ways. One is down a, ‘Woe is me. I can’t believe this is happening’ road. One is where we address the situation and we face the challenge. We took that second road. It took a lot of work, a lot of effort and energy to make school work for kids. We knew children need to be in the presence of their teachers and they needed to have an opportunity to interact in a socially distanced way and have some sense of normalcy. I don’t want to paint a picture that it was easy to open schools and to open schools safely. But the picture I do want to paint is as a community, we were resilient and we were able to give kids some sense of normalcy.”

– Rachel Ohm

‘A whole new appreciation for the people around us’

Photo by Derek Davis

Jacob Dube, 28, of South Portland, had to make adjustments in personal plans and at his job in 2020. Dube has worked at the Oxford Street Shelter, operated by the City of Portland, for the past five years. He’s currently a weekend supervisor at the homeless shelter.

“The last year has brought a whole new appreciation for the people around us,” Dube said.

“At the beginning of the year, we were full-on planning our wedding of around 200 people and everything that goes into that. … I proposed to her in Paris in 2017. We were waiting to get married until we had purchased some land to build a house. We had closed on an apple orchard last year near Sebago Lake and we were planning our wedding.

“Then COVID hit and our plans changed, so we ended up having a small nine-person elopement on the farm. Her uncle married us. My parents were both there and my grandmother and her parents. June 20 was her grandmother’s anniversary, so we were pretty set on the date. We wanted it to happen, pandemic or not, so we made it work.

“When the pandemic first hit, there was just a lot of uncertainty. … My wife and her family were pretty concerned because she is high-risk (asthma and chronic pneumonia) and I have got some underlying health conditions like asthma. We were always going to take it seriously on a personal level.

“There was also a lot of uncertainty with the clients and with the staff that work at the shelter. It was our role to keep everybody calm and try to maintain a sense of normalcy and safety amongst both the staff and the guests here at the shelter. 

“We pulled together our resources and were able to find a sufficient overflow space at the (Portland) Expo and keep our population distanced and comfortable through that period. It was a little crazy trying to set up meals and provide food for everybody, but it wasn’t more than a week or two until we had things pretty well dialed in.”

During the summer, the city’s commitment to the homeless was questioned during the protest encampment at City Hall.

“That was a little disheartening, because I know how hard I personally work,” Dube said. “And a lot of my coworkers are very committed to working here and serving the people we do. … I tuned out that noise and tried to keep things normal and consistent for everybody during my shifts.

“It just feels like the new normal now. It feels like second nature to always be wearing a mask and wash my hands and sanitize obsessively. Until we get everything under control, I’m happy to just keep on keeping on.”

– Randy Billings

‘I felt so safe in a world that was telling me I was unsafe’

Photo by Brianna Soukup

Artist Eva Rose Goetz, 68, converted an upstairs room at her South Portland home into a studio and painted her way through the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the turbulent presidential election. Beginning Jan. 5, she will show her paintings at Elizabeth Moss Galleries in Falmouth.

“When I heard that we were going to be asked not to leave our houses,” Goetz said, “I gathered up paints and supplies and all the canvases I hadn’t used yet, packed them in my car and brought them home. I was working in this teeny little room upstairs. It’s amazing what you can do in a little room. I felt so safe here. I felt so safe in a world that was telling me I was unsafe. At first, did we all know how airborne it was? I don’t think we did. Remember, we were all washing our groceries?

“Do you remember, pretty soon after that, planes had stopped? Cars had stopped. Do you remember we were seeing these satellite photos of how the air was clearing all over the world? And many of us who are concerned about the environment and climate change, we said, ‘Holy – whatever!’ Look what we could do if we wanted to, if we could just stop, and start looking at things differently and re-examining our actions. For many of us, it opened our eyes in a whole different way.

“My paintings have followed the year chronologically, as current events, but they have also followed it emotionally. The tenor and mood of what has been going on in the nation are reflected in my paintings. I have worked harder this year than I ever have, following my own rhythm, my own whims.

“One of the positive things that came out of this year, my kids, who are adult children, came home. One came home from Mexico. I think she got the last plane out before Mexico closed down. And my other daughter, who was in Boston, also felt it was best to come home. So everyone was here. It is a gift to have our adult children around us, and my relationship has deepened with both of them, which has been so wonderful.

“I am feeling positive. I think many of us realize we have a lot work to do. I am hoping. But it is going to be a lonely winter. I will be moving in with some friends in Duluth, Minnesota, who have invited me to come, and I am excited about that. I am ready to be in a cozy, familiar, inter-generational situation, and I think it will be fun. I have never spent a winter in Minnesota. I did buy some nice warm boots. I have my cross-country skis. I am ready to go.”

– Bob Keyes

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