Lenore Lyons, creator of the Key Idea project, was in the midst of traveling across the country and bringing the opportunity to create KeyStories to participants across the country when everything changed.
Ms. Lyons and her partner started at the beginning of the year, traveling in their white van on the southern route in their trip to promote “The Keys To Our American Dreams,” bringing keys and cards to all sorts of different communities and encouraging people to describe what their dream “key” would open.
Ms. Lyons called the trip “amazing” and said that they met people from all walks of life and cultures.
“We met with migrant people, with the Amish, with celebrants in New Orleans, the homeless in Austin, native kids in El Paso. We tried to get a real variety of folks and that worked out,” Ms. Lyons said from her home in Centerville during our phone conversation.
“In so many ways people are so similar. We all want the same sort of things. What we’ve been finding politically is that people are tired of not being able to disagree in a friendly way,” she said.
By the beginning of March they had reached Los Angeles and the end of the first part of their trip. “The plan was we that we were going to leave the van with friends in Santa Barbara and fly home for six weeks, take care of things like taxes and take a break, and then fly back in early May and do the whole northern route. Now the northern route is postponed until who knows when,” Ms. Lyons said.
Ms. Lyons said that they were in Los Angeles on March 11 and took a tour of the area. “We saw everything, Venice Beach, Rodeo Drive, the Dolby Theater, and we picked out some places we planned to go back to and spend more time at, but by Thursday, every single thing that we’d seen the day before was closed.”
Instead of sightseeing, Ms. Lyons said, she and her partner spent the day planning their trip back. “The suddenness of it all was surprising,” she said, adding that it took five days and 50 hours to get home, and by the last days of the trip their only options were takeout food, with the places where they could stop being few and far between.
“It was just us and the trucks on the road,” she said. “It was the most surreal feeling. It felt like we were racing across the country in an effort to get home before everything closed.”
During the five days it took to drive home, Ms. Lyons said, they stopped only for gas, coffee and bathroom breaks, noting that “the bathrooms across America were cleaner than I’d ever seen them.”
Ms. Lyons said that while she was waiting in lines to use the restrooms at various stops she remembered looking at bulletin boards that were posted nearby and reading about all the different things that were scheduled in the various communities they traveled through. As she read the flyers she thought about how every single thing she was reading about was now canceled. “The dances. The farm auctions. Whatever it was that was being advertised wherever we went was now canceled. There’s disappointment around that and I think it helps to share what your missing.”
For herself, Ms. Lyons said, “Honestly, my life is not going to change dramatically because of this. We will eventually reschedule our trip, but I think about people whose lives will be forever altered by this event.”
A retired school teacher, Ms. Lyons recalled her last group of 2nd grade students, who are seniors this year, saying that she felt sad that they will be missing out on rites of passage—such as the prom—that they had likely been looking forward to.
“We’re all trying to stay optimistic and that’s great, but there’s real solid disappointments in people’s lives and I think to share that and to realize that other people are feeling those same things, I think that’s important,” Ms. Lyons said, adding she also thinks that people might find new strategies for coping by reading about what other people have done to cope. “It occurred to me during the long drive home that this is the first time that people all around the world are sharing the same feelings. Everyone from the most affluent to the poorest person, they’re all feeling disappointment, they’re all feeling sadness, they’re all feeling cooped up. I think that universality is something to both document and to share,” she said.
Thus the Keys to Coping project was born. And while people are still welcome to send in cards for Keys To Our American Dream, Ms. Lyons surmised that it’s “not where people’s heads are right now.”
Keys to Coping asks people what they are missing and how they are coping, and suggests that they write a short sentence and add color, drawings, designs, and photographs or magazine pictures to illustrate the idea.
People can email Ms. Lyons from The Key Idea website (www.thekeyidea.org) in order to receive an official 4 x 6-inch heavyweight postcard for the project, use their own card stock paper to make cards, or create something digitally. “Think about your disappointments. Think about what you are doing instead,” it says on the website. “Write a short sentence. Be clear and legible.” Contributors can add their first name, age and where they are from, or remain anonymous.
“I do a lot of journaling,” said Ms. Lyons, noting that she looked at this project as a mini one-page journal filled out by different people.
“I’m fascinated by art projects done by people who do not consider themselves artists,” she said, adding that she likes projects that can be multigenerational.
Ms. Lyons said her 5-year-old granddaughter summed up what many people are feeling when she wrote, “I miss playdates” on her card. “She captured the feeling for a lot of people,” Ms. Lyons said. “I miss play dates, too.”
Since conceiving of the project, Ms. Lyons said, she has mostly promoted it on social media but now that she has gotten cards printed up, she’s looking for ways to get them out to people. “I’ve been putting them in the little free libraries around town and people are taking them and I’m replenishing them. I’m also in the process of talking to someone about including a card with the lunches that are going home with some of the local children.”
The Dennis-Yarmouth school system is promoting the project to its high school students, who are being encouraged to participate.
Ms. Lyons said she has gotten a few cards back so far and people are enthusiastic about the project. She expects now that some blank postcards have gone out, she’ll be seeing more returns. “People like the opportunity to say something and be part of something bigger than themselves,” she said.
“Sometimes I get an idea and I can’t shake it and I need to more forward with it. We’ll see.”
Ms. Lyons referred to the present time as living in history. “This will be one of those events that in the future people will ask ‘Where were you during the coronavirus?’ I love seeing that being at home is making people more creative. We went from this most amazing travel adventure to this intense drive across the country, to being totally in our house. One extreme to another. We all have to be a little uncomfortable with uncertainty and just deal the best we can.
“If someone had said on New Year’s Day, within a few months the entire world will close: every business, every event, they’ll be no sporting activities, nothing, I don’t think any of us would have believed it,” she said.
“I feel like everybody’s doing what they can to make this better. This is what I can do. I can share art. That’s my super talent.”