Editor’s Notebook: Life in 100 canvases

April 21, 2021 6:00 am
Canvases painted with objects popular with Generation Z

The 100 5-by-5 canvases tell a little story about the childhood of Generation Z. (Dana Wormald | New Hampshire Bulletin)

For her senior project, my daughter poured out her generation’s childhood onto 100 5-by-5 canvases, which were then organized in a 10-by-10 grid and mounted on sturdy Elmer’s foam board. 

Some panels are instantly recognizable to parents of my generation, like the classic McDonald’s Happy Meal box, the PBS Kids logo, and a waving Dora the Explorer. Some are political, like the Bernie Sanders mitten meme, Kamala Harris’s “We did it, Joe” cell phone moment, and a tweeting Donald Trump that triggers involuntary head-shaking still. Others are just painful: the Capitol riot, a surgical mask, and the ultrastructure of the COVID-19 virus.

The one of Shrek is painful just for me. In days now faded, I imitated the gruff ogre when we played. She loved it so much that she made me read bedtime stories in character: “Now,” she would implore, “make Donkey interrupt!”

And I would, poorly, but to her great joy.

I can’t paint, but I’ve thought about what some of my generation’s 100 panels might be: The Love Boat, Family Ties, and Cheers; Rubik’s Cube, PAC-MAN for the Atari 2600, and Mattel Football 2; Toughskins, Nike Cortez, and Ghostbusters T-shirts; Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and John H. Sununu; Love Canal, acid rain, the Iran hostages, AIDS, and endless nuclear brinkmanship.

It wouldn’t be hard to get to a hundred – or a thousand, really. Who can put a number on all of the things, people, and events that define a generation?

The same, of course, can be said about people. I look at that 50-by-50 collection of panels my daughter created and I know that even collectively they represent just a tiny fraction of who she is. She is not defined by one panel or a million. She, like everybody, is infinitely complex. 

Her project is a bright and beautiful reminder that I should try harder to give people all of their panels instead of pinning them to one. It’s more challenging than it sounds, especially these days, but I don’t know a better path out of our present mess than that of empathy.

So we may disagree, you and I – argue even – but let’s allow each other our respective tapestries. And if we can’t manage that, let’s at least pause for a second and find out what cheesy panels from the 1970s and ’80s – or any other decade – we have in common. 

In fact, let’s do that right now. What political and pop-culture panels help tell the story of your generation? Send your list of panels (and the decade or decades to which they belong) to [email protected], and I’ll write a follow-up column somewhere down the line.

But before you go, check out the photo above of my daughter’s project. See that panel in the middle with the QR code she painted? Try it out. 

You’re welcome. 

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Dana Wormald
Dana Wormald

Dana Wormald, a lifelong resident of New Hampshire, has been a newspaper editor for more than 25 years. He began his career on the Concord Monitor’s news desk in 1995 and later spent more than a decade at the New Hampshire Union Leader. In 2014, he returned to the Monitor to serve as opinion editor, a position he held until being named editor of the Bulletin. Email: [email protected]