Creativity Within Crisis

There was this meme going around for minute, and you probably know the one. In part I want to address the ideas here and in part I want to add a drop in the bucket of ideas with my own.

I’ve been stuck at home for a month now. 30 days in the same four walls, 30 days in the same environment, 30 days with only myself to see (in the mirror, in reflection, and in retrospect), and 30 days to really think about what I’m going through.

I’m lucky and in a place of privileged safety where my job is not really open and I can stay home knowing I have a job and paycheck waiting for me. My job has paid for me to stay home, paid for me to be safe. So I know the stress I’m under is far less than many others whose jobs and lives are in constant jeopardy. So, I write this knowing that I know only so much about the lives of the people out there who are getting it much worse. But I hope that what some of what I’m experiencing can transfer to others who might be struggling with being creative during this time of global crisis.

That said, you don’t have to do anything right now except keep yourself as healthy as you can, physically and mentally. Play video games, sleep when you need to, read for pleasure, sit on your porch and listen to the birds, work on a puzzle, meditate, binge watch some TV or movies, clean, organize your closet, cook something, talk with your friends on the phone, communicate with others and most importantly with yourself. Find ways of working with the stress you’re under that don’t add to your stress. Especially if you are one of those people still working, still facing customers every day, still being the essential worker that society is now only beginning to recognize.

I regularly deal with bouts of severe depression, mediated by medication and therapy, so I know that ultimately, especially in my worst days, I may not be able to even find the energy to get out of bed much less work on my writing.

Writing, for me, is what I call a (capital P) Passion, it’s not a hobby, it’s not a thing I do just for fun. It’s a thing I do because I feel compelled to do so, because it makes me feel alive when I do it, because I feel the most like myself when I do it, and yes it’s also fun. That is a passion. A hobby is fun to do, but take it or leave it. What ever that capital P Passion is to you should not be something that you automatically try to figure out how to monetize. First it should be something that you evaluate for its value to your mental well-being.

Creativity in its purest form is self-entertainment, self-expression, and self-joy. It’s not a means to an end. It’s not a side-hustle to get you more money. It’s not an ego booster. It’s not the end all be all ticket to self-worth in a capitalist society.

It’s sometimes hard for me to be creative inside a state of uncertainty. It’s actually easier for me to default to my hobbies when I’m in a state of crisis so a lot of the time when I don’t know what else to do I’ll draw. I like to draw mountains and trees and flowers. These are things that I’ve drawn over and over and over again, so my hands are familiar with the shapes and forms. There is very little thought except for letting the picture develop on its own with little nudges of active thought. I’m not trying to figure out how to make a picture of some mountains the best picture in the whole world that I can then sell for top dollar. I’m only looking to let my hands do something to ease the anxiety within my mind.

One of the problems with being in a capitalist society is that there is an emphasis on comodifying anything and everything we do. Time is money. Money is wealth. Wealth is inherent value. If the time you spend on something does not produce money then you have no value as a person. At least that’s what we’ve been led to believe.

The important thing to remind ourselves in this space and time is that we are in a state of crisis, and creating or producing things is not essential. It’s only essential if it makes us feel better in our space and within our minds. It’s one of those important juxtapositions while we are physically distanced from each other to realize that a lot of the time we only have ourselves to entertain.

Creativity in its purest form is self-entertainment, self-expression, and self-joy. It’s not a means to an end. It’s not a side-hustle to get you more money. It’s not an ego booster. It’s not the end all be all ticket to worth in a capitalist society. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at it, it doesn’t matter if you have “talent,” it doesn’t matter if you can make money off it.

What matters is taking the emotions and feelings of your life and finding a way to constructively express those, whether it’s through art, writing, photography, music, or a number of other exercises in creativity. Taking crisis, this pandemic, grief, anger, sadness, love, passion, and turning them into the fuel for creative expression helps us understand ourselves and world around us is as important as getting a good night’s rest.

I believe that part of being a creative is that we must also consume multiple forms of media to fill the bucket of ideas that we draw from. During moments of great distress or crisis the bucket of ideas is emptied and filled with anxieties instead.

The first week I was in quarantine (a term I use loosely to mean I was not at work and stuck at home) I found it hard to focus on anything. I was severely depressed. I was frustrated with myself for not working on the hundreds of projects I have waiting in the wings. The second week, I was able to do some work, but I was still struggling, the third I just slept a lot. As I started to come out the other side of of that depressive state, I was able to quiet the part of my mind that wanted to over schedule every day, to fill every minute with something productive, and that’s when I was actually able to start writing. I had to remind myself that I don’t need to do anything right now except let myself relax, whatever that relaxing means for me at the moment. I’m literally living each day moment-by-moment. I have a bunch of stuff to do but those are options not directives. I have nothing to feel guilty about or ashamed of because I could not produce or create.

By letting myself live moment to moment I was able to start having fun, relaxing, and just being myself within my space, even if that just meant I’ve been listening to podcasts and watching TV.

I believe that part of being a creative is that we must also consume multiple forms of media to fill the bucket of ideas that we draw from. During moments of great distress or crisis the bucket of ideas is emptied and filled with anxieties instead. Sometimes we can take those anxieties and fuel our creativity with them, and other times we must siphon off the anxieties by replacing them with other things, and sometimes the anxieties flood back in as soon as we remove them. That is life, that is balance, that is human nature and that shouldn’t stress anyone out either.

Creativity is escapism, the good kind.

While it’s not as structured as I’d like it to be, my life right now is like floating down a lazy river, being pulled along and just watching the scenery go by. We’re not used to this slow life, where the whole world grinds to a halt, where every plan and schedule has been thrown out. What we once knew has changed, what we planned to happen has been diverted.

Take time to figure out how to have fun with your creativity instead of focusing on how to make money from it or how to turn it into the next great thing is important for all of us. The fun is what’s important, especially when the world and our lives are in crisis. Creativity is escapism, the good kind. Creative escapism is the most constructive kind of escapism because it turns the bad into something good. Even if it’s doodles in the margins of magazine it pulls our minds into a different state, a less stressed state where we can mentally breathe for a moment.

I am a writer and an artist. My expressions of creativity are through writing and art so those are areas where I can relate my knowledge the most. If you’re a writer, write about how you feel in this moment. Find ways of expressing your thoughts and emotions as honestly as you can. If that’s through story or through journaling or through poetry or through freeform stream of consciousness writing, all of it works. Don’t be afraid of depression or stress or the uncomfortable thoughts, embrace them instead.

Creativity isn’t just making things, it’s also making ideas, making connections, making space, making time. You make ideas by reading, playing, enjoying; you make connections by speaking, listening, communicating; you make connections by making points of contact with other people and yourself; you make space by taking care of the place in which you live; you make time by stopping and listening to what’s most important to you in this moment and setting time aside to do it, even if it’s to sit and play video games for a couple hours.

Regardless of what your form of creativity is, writing, art, music, etc. There are ways to express that creativity in ways that help you escape, help you process, or help you have fun. But at the end of the day, don’t force it, don’t force anything that does not want to come. In times of great stress you sometimes have to take the path of least resistance until you can find the resilience and energy to push at the boundaries a little, to go against the current, or to tap into the hard parts of life. Your creativity and projects aren’t going anywhere, time is a social construct, and your health is what’s most important right now.

Push a little every day, see where the lazy river wants to take you, and in the mean time relax, breathe, and be kind to yourself.

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