Separate, Together: Making Lemonade 🍋

(Pt. 1)

An essay in quarantine from our new Marketing and Development Manager, Chris Battaglia

Just over a month ago, I joined Waterfall Arts as the Marketing and Development Manager.  After nearly a decade of creative work and living in (and escaping from) big cities, my wife and I found ourselves in Belfast after a seemingly-perennial search for the small town in which we wanted to make a life. Now, as a part of the Waterfall Arts community, I feel the most in-tune yet with the decision to make Midcoast Maine home.

It all started last year, when volunteering for the local radio station, WBFY 100.9FM, with a weekly radio show broadcast out of the basement. At the same time, I was working on a yearlong community art project, called The Village Canoe. With the help of Waterfall Arts as partner—as well as many more businesses and organizations throughout our greater Midcoast community—I was able to realize an ad hoc art gallery and venue for outdoor learning/performance — ultimately manifesting itself in a 16’ x 40’ gothic-arched bow shed on the Belfast waterfront.

I feel fortunate to be working for the organization through such unprecedented times. It seems the people making some of the most vital and necessary work during this time (in addition to the food, education, and healthcare industries, to name a few) are artists. And this work is largely going un-funded—no surprise. Creatives are having a hard time making profits [if any] let alone a “living wage,” but they’re finding ways to continue making art. Making culture. When your core being depends on the act of creation, the concern for money seems to drift away.

Artists will always make art. Farmers will always grow food. And as we’ve seen, healthcare workers will continue to treat people; save lives.

In order to economize creation, the art needs to be satisfying enough for artists to decide to make for themselves, and then to share with their communities. The art must be rewarding enough for people to choose to consume it— and first notice it, especially when so much is being thrown at them, at us. Once this art makes it to an audience, the viewer has options to: (1) digest, enjoy; (2) share, boosterism!; (3) compensate. Even after writing that, I fear that getting to #3 for many never crosses the mind. And that’s okay! Money is never the point, merely a tool.

I am turned toward thinking in terms of a parallel that Kevin Alexander explores in his recent book, Burn the Ice, about the boom of the restaurant revolution in America in the early 2000s. His conjecture:

“As the economic boom years fade out and we’re faced with the cyclical inevitability of a recession, restaurants will close, the dispassionate will lose interest, the market will become less saturated, and we’ll again see, as we did in 2008 with the Food Truck Insurrection, that in times of austerity, creativity reigns.”

Kevin Alexander, Burn The Ice

During my time in (social) distance, I’ve tried to find ways to shine a light, through the lens of austerity, to see some emergent silver linings.

First, and most notably, this marks my 6th week not biting my nails, in a more-than-two-decades battle against the habit—and this merely from fear instilled from “Don’t Touch Your Face” warnings.

Second, I’m trying to make “lemonade” figuratively, as well as literally. When my great uncle Paul was on his deathbed many years ago, he told my now 102-year-old grandfather, Ike, something to the effect of “DRINK MORE LEMONADE. LEMONADE, IKE!” to live healthily and with longevity. Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to drink lemon-water daily. This week, I’ve begun reading Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. Maybe it was the seemingly-trite riff “#LoveInTheTimeOfCorona” —or maybe it was because I have exhausted all of the Murakami books in my home during a recent bout of insomnia—but it seemed fitting for quarantine. Twice in less than 10 pages, I’ve read about lemonade.

The  first encounter mentions, “When [Dr. Juvenal Urbino] paused in his reading he sipped the lemonade or took his time chewing on a piece of ice.” Then, with the feeling of pneumonia coming on, “[Florentino Ariza] prepared hot lemonade with a shot of brandy, drank it in bed with two aspirin tablets, and, wrapped in a wool blanket, sweated by the bucketful until the proper equilibrium had been reestablished in his body.” Thus confirming, to my mind, my late great uncle’s suspicions that a daily lemonade proves vital for a healthy life.

Perhaps it’s an easy way to procure the Vitamin C that we so need, but perhaps it’s more than that—a way to create healthy habits year-round. This sentiment hit home when just past Thanksgiving, I stopped sleeping for nearly all of December. At first unclear to me as to how/why this happened, it would now seem to have been a cocktail of compounded anxiety, stress, and transitions manifesting physically in my body. So I used that intense, pain-staking time to do two things: 

First, to talk about what was happening with nearly everyone I encountered (when someone asked “how are you doing?” I stopped saying merely “I‘m well, how are you?!” and volleyed “fine” or “not great, I haven’t slept for three weeks” to engage in real conversation, discarding pleasantries) because that felt healthy and what I imagine therapy is like. 

Second, to realize my health was antithetical to what I envision for myself. Because of this acute insomnia, I changed my sleep hygiene, my diet, my exercise, my mental health, and, finally, my outlook on not sleeping.

It was at a Solstice dinner in December that I reframed my mind when our host suggested I “try embracing the sleeplessness.” Now, I certainly did not retire to bed that evening thinking “I can’t wait to not sleep!” but something was different when I chose to accept the fact that I would likely not sleep. This felt okay. It was not hard to accept the thing beyond my control. That night, I slept for a couple of hours. The next night, a few more hours. By New Years Day, I had been sleeping at least 6-8 hours a night.

Hopefully, during time away from others, we can all find ways to turn inward, learn to love ourselves and our plight a little bit more than not. Many of us are turning our attention to the content on our telephones and computers to feel connected, to feel productive, to feel something. I hope that in a year from now, the musicians will have penned new albums and caches of songs lyrically informed by time in isolation—melodies drenched with quarantine grief or sadness or hope. I bet that there will be more thoughtful novels, memoirs, and poetry to sink into and reflect on this time through prose and verse. Rather than mimicking the (mostly banal) television and film available on streaming services these days, I hope the aspiring and independent auteurs, screenwriters, and producers are working on socially-impactful, thoughtful entertainment that feeds more than just a bank account or some trendy flourish in the zeitgeist.

To be continued…

Grandpa Ike Battaglia, 2019. Photo: Chris Battaglia

4 Comments. Leave new

  • Nancy Spaulding
    April 8, 2020 9:42 AM

    Thank you, Chris.

    A wonderfully moving “morning piece” before I start my busy, and hopefully, creative day, here in Tucson.

    Lemonade has been my morning drink for a long time! 🙂

    Belfast is my hometown. A great little city..

    Blessings to you…

    Reply
  • Deborah Battaglia
    April 8, 2020 1:35 PM

    Thank you for such a beautifully written and thoughtful piece…it certainly reminds me of what’s important, especially during these trying times. I too believe we will all be different in the best of ways.

    Reply
  • Rich Battaglia
    April 8, 2020 10:53 PM

    Well said , son…Just this writing of yours proves that something good has come already from this pandemic.

    Reply
  • If I can look as good as your Grandpa at 102 by making/drinking lemonade, by gosh that’s what I’ll do! Thanks for the thoughtful piece Chris.

    Reply

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