Just over a month ago, Meryl Streep gave a speech about her concerns with the new presidential administration, and her reaction as an artist to the current climate in our country. One line that stood out to me from her speech was some advice that her friend Carrie Fisher gave to her: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”
2016 cracked my heart — I moved to a cold and in many ways unwelcoming city and struggled to find any sense of community. The current political climate in the U.S. made me feel angry and frustrated that so many Americans chose to support a candidate who wanted to only elevate others like him – a cis, white, straight man while leaving everyone else behind to struggle. Many times throughout the year my heart hurt, but nothing truly broke it as deeply as the death of my dog just a few weeks ago in January 2017. He was my very best friend and the only constant I have had for the last six years of my life. I moved from one side of the country to the other, then back again. I had many breakups, one which wounded me deeply and was intensely challenging to move past. He helped me process so many struggles, he loved me unconditionally, and he gave me the constant emotional support that many humans are unable to provide.
I know many people have not had animals in their lives, or maybe not a bond so deep. But as I have traveled so many places with just my dog and I, and as I’ve lived in cities thousands of miles away from family or friends who truly know me — he was always by my side. When I drove cross country around this time last year, he sat on my lap the entire time – 4000 miles I drove alone, but never alone, as he was always right there with me. Because of my dog, I felt support and comfort, even when I felt isolated and lonely in my daily life. My dog and I traveled to 19 states together. We saw wonderful things like Crater Lake, the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Las Vegas, Hoover Dam, and all of the beauty of the coasts of California and New England. As a single woman traveling alone he protected me and he was my beloved confidant.
His death was very sudden and unexpected. It was a true shock as he was happy and healthy one day, and gone the next. I lost my dearest companion, my sidekick. It is impossible to put into words, but my dog was truly my everything.
I mourn for my dog, but as today’s date crept up, I was reminded of a project I started two years ago while still living in California. It was 65 degrees and sunny on Valentine’s Day, and I walked up and down the main street of my town and posted Anonymous Valentines with a hashtag on them so that I could track when people posted them online. I missed the chance to do that last year, as I was back in Massachusetts and I spent the day helping my sister unfreeze her pipes at home. But this year, with a very heavy heart, I decided to start the #anonvalentine project again, taking my broken heart and making some art.
Everything I did was free — we had extra paper at my office that was going to be thrown out so I used it to make the hearts, I had tape and sharpies left over from my move at home. Spreading joy and kindness does not have to be expensive — you can still be a minimalist and brighten someone’s day with found objects and a little bit of planning, no money needed. This year I made many, many more simple Valentine hearts. Instead of enjoying the warmth of the February California Sun, I trudged through the bitter cold and slushy, snowy streets of Boston this year. I planned ahead as I started to create my hearts a few days before posting them, and I spent two days before Valentine’s Day posting the hearts in different neighborhoods of Boston that I visited.
I did my very best to post the hearts throughout the city so that no one noticed when I taped up a heart. I waited sometimes until people walked by, but most of the time I realized that people were so engrossed with their phones that they didn’t notice me tape a heart right in front of them. The sadness I feel from losing my best friend is of course still with me, but I was motivated today by the realization everyone needs a reminder that someone cares for them — even if that person is a total stranger. Walking around in the cold, my hands hurt from the bitter wind. Posting the hearts this year was for sure a labor of love in freezing weather. But I felt like we all need a reminder of kindness these days, it has been a hard winter and hard past year for a lot of us. Of course Valentine’s Day itself is a very challenging day for many people, whether they are in a relationship or not the day has a lot of expectation and pressure and many end up feeling unsatisfied and unloved. I put a hashtag on the hearts again this year, and I want to share with you just a few of the lovely messages people posted when they saw the hearts:
Knowing that the wide majority of folks won’t share publicly when they saw the hearts, it just makes me smile to know that someone else saw a note telling them they are perfect, they are loved, they are worthy, they are kind, and they are sweet. Doesn’t everyone need to be reminded of that? And in return in my sadness over losing my dog and being cold in this sometimes harsh town — I smiled too.
I hope that in some small way, this reminds others to care for themselves but also to be kind and caring to others. I have encountered a lot of aggression and rudeness since moving here, but I know that underneath many of the harsh exteriors of Bostonians are souls that need a bit of tender care. I hope that my motivation to share a little bit of my BrokenHeartArt today brought some smiles to the people in my city, and that the joyful spirit of my beloved dog that I remembered with each heart I posted, could be felt by everyone who saw my Valentines today. If my project inspired one person to smile, maybe next year it will inspire them make their own Anonymous Valentines to continue to spread positivity and loving energy.
Remembering my best friend today and every day, I hope to continue to create in ways that honor his memory of joy and love. Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!