Blog / 2020 / Touching Elbows

March 13, 2020

Last weekend, before the WHO officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic and before 45 made his “I’m totally going to leverage this catastrophe to try to become the dictator I have always wanted to be” speech, I went to a party. My father-in-law was turning eighty and much of the extended family had come from all over Jersey and beyond to celebrate.

Going into the event, my partner and I had resolved that we wouldn’t be hugging or kissing anyone, just touching elbows. We both felt some trepidation about our decision, worrying that we would upset some of our cousins. In the end, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I thought it would be—particularly because I wasn’t alone in implementing the new greeting. Some family was predictably offended, but most people took it in stride, chiding us for our “overly cautious” behavior without being hostile.

Beyond everybody else’s reaction though, touching elbows was actually pretty magical for me.

For the first time in years, I felt like greetings were more than a robotic display of my relationships with these people. The different kind of “hello” brought a renewed mindfulness to the moment of mutual recognition.

I had to remain fully present in order to avoid being the good girl the patriarchy wants me to be and stop myself from responding to open arms with an automatic hug. Presenting my elbow in greeting actually melted away some of the numbness I have felt since that fateful day in 2016 when 45 became 45.

a little girl drawing a panda pig
Gwenn Seemel
Drawing a Panda Pig (Summer Camp Series)
2019
acrylic, colored pencil, and marker on paper
9 x 6 inches
(There are prints of this drawing available here, and the original is $100 plus shipping.)

There is plenty to be terrified of in the context of COVID-19. Personally, my fearful focus is twofold: on the physical health of vulnerable loved ones and on the financial health of my artist friends since all of us live so simply even when there isn’t a worldwide crisis.

But within this nightmare, there are glimmers of good. Many important things that we normally take for granted have suddenly come into sharper focus in light of the pandemic, not the least of which is creativity.

If you’re struggling with cabin fever as you practice social distancing, I recommend drawing as one of your first lines of defense—and especially if you’ve always been told you can’t! Try this half hour video workshop to get you started.

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