The paradox of quarantine is that there has never been a greater opportunity for people to be creative in an atmosphere which couldn’t be less conducive to being productive.
Even for the seasoned introvert who is very comfortable getting along in solitude, the forced isolation can be difficult. It comes from the restriction, I think, of not being able to go out when you choose, rather than from any particular desire to be doing more than you currently are. It is a limitation of freedom which hangs around your neck like a weight, holding your loved ones, your neighbours, the whole world to ransom. How are you supposed to work in an environment where Covid-19 prowls, invisible, outside the door, like an eldritch monster that that you cannot predict or see.
The added disadvantage is that for many people things feel busier. This even applies to people who aren’t essential workers, but have set themselves up at home. For those who have little experience working from home it can feel like a nightmare—everything takes longer, it’s harder to get into the groove of things, and you have all the frustration of technology and delegation and other nonsense. The very mind-set of working from home can take time to cultivate. After all, we’re used to a certain routine: specific hours, specific clothes, specific locations which are all part of the working experience. When you deviate so suddenly from it, it can be hard to engage your brain into work-mode. On top of that, lots of people have the added pressure of doing another full-day’s work in terms of care-giving, child-care and household chores. (Because yes, if a bunch of people are all in the house constantly together, the washing, tidying and cleaning are going to double!)
This is the sort of environment where stress, fear and tension can cultivate, like mould in a petri dish, multiplying and growing more and more deadly. You pace around your habitat, like a tiger in a cage, simultaneously under and over-stimulated. (The whole question of life for animals in captivity is another conversation entirely.) The results can be a sense of restlessness, anxiety, depression, lethargy and hypertension. Your problem-solving brain is trying to engage and misfiring, staring down the barrel of a pandemic where the only viable solution for many is to stay in-doors and do as little as possible.
One of solutions to this claustrophobic nightmare is to engage your mind with something creative. And yet, at a time where our sanity calls for it, it seems to be more difficult than ever.
So why can’t people just allow themselves the release of being creative? Well I believe that actually comes as an unfortunate by-product of our society’s insistence on marketability. Time and materials are resources that you should only dip into if the resulting product has ‘worth’, and the worth of the product is usually assessed on its monetary value. (Eg. “You could sell that!”). In other-words you can only create things if you are doing it at a professional level. We’re no longer allowed to enjoy something, unless we’re good at it, and thus we don’t do it.
For those who are capable of creating to a professional level they have the added pressure of usually having a vocation related to their art. Perhaps it’s a full-time job, perhaps they’re a freelancer, perhaps they’re a student – the point is that their art is intrinsically connected with work. They can’t draw or write for pleasure, because if they’re drawing or writing, they should be working! Only, as we’ve established, working and productivity are currently harder than ever. And can you blames us? With the weighty traumatic terror of Covid-19 looming, how is any reasonable person supposed to balance the added pressure of deadlines, which are hard enough on their own!
Forget fight or flight, we’re all in full fright mode—we’re playing possum, too overwhelmed and petrified to move.
And yet it remains that being creative might just be the only thing we can do right now, to help relieve this pressure, to combat symptoms of anxiety and depression, and to bring a little brightness into the disaster. But in order to take advantage of it though, we have to let go of that expectation that the product is the important thing. At this time the product doesn’t matter so much as the process—the pleasure of writing, of painting, of playing, of baking, of building. It truly is a situation where ‘The treasure is the friends you made along the way’. By giving yourself a task, but relieving the pressure of expectation, you can engage your problem-solving brain, without the paralysis of inadequacy and requirement getting in the way. Whilst some people have been able to dive into long projects—and kudos to you, my friends—for many, now is not the time to try and create your magnus opus. Now is the time to have fun.
Draw, paint, sculpt, even if you’re bad at it. Take out that candle making set you got for Christmas, make your own cookies with spare Easter treats, learn some origami from a Youtube tutorial. Pick up the guitar that’s gathering dust, make models out of playdough or lego, start scrapbooking. And if you’re like me—write. Write whatever you want; prompts, short-stories, poems, ideas, fanfiction…Anything you want.
And for those who can’t convince themselves to try something they know they’re bad at, or for the artists who cannot suppress the guilt of doing something just for fun, I remind you that practising a craft is never a waste of time. It is the best way to improve. Furthermore, without the pressure, many people will produce good things. Think how many of the great innovations came about by accident, or by someone indulging in a hobby. You might come out of this with your magnus opus yet! The point is to remove the emphasis on the result, and place it on the process.
It’s a rough time for so many people. For those stuck at home, for those who can’t see their families, for those who are out there protecting and serving the public as essential workers, and for those who may have already lost someone…We can’t make that aspect easier, but we can try to help ourselves even as we help each other by staying home, and doing our part in flattening the curve.
A personal note:
I have been running a series of Live ‘Writing Retreats’ on my Author Facebook for the last few weeks, which have been really good. It’s been attended by a whole number of people—dabblers of fiction, and dab-hands, professional writers, students and hobbyists. Each session consists of a number of fun prompts, set to engage your creative mind, without the expectation of results. From my standpoint, I have found them beneficial—coming up with prompts and seeing so many cool ideas has been brilliant. Those who attend have also seemed to really enjoy it, and particularly like the social aspect of sharing ideas and work. Naturally all of my readers are welcome to come and join us. The next Live episode will be on Monday the 20th of April, 14:00. Come and join us, if you like! Until then, stay safe and well, my friends.