Closeted Creativity: Excerpts from a mid-pandemic mind
"Artists thrive in isolation"
We've all heard this quote some time in our lives and some even live by this saying. I admit that for quite a few, this might be an easy feat but for others it brings out a feeling of self-doubt and anxiety.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 disease has posed real danger to the world, its people and to the economy at large. At the same time, such a crisis turns out to be a strong driver of creativity and innovation or it may even push a struggling innovator to the last edge. Either way, the antisocial distance grants these creators a view from on high, a clearer perspective on things. So, even though some artists tend to thrive, the rest just observe the days going by. In other words? Survive.
Its been almost two months being home-quarantined. There are days when I'm at my best and tick off everything in my to-do list, there are days when all I do is binge-watch anything that makes me feel good about myself, and there are days where I simply stare at my ceiling fan for hours at a stretch. There are times I feel that I'm not creative enough. Whether it's a good or bad day, there's always this uncertainty about it, because its impossible to self-assess. I don't think any creator/artist in their right mind would sit there and say, 'Oh, I'm a creative person.' Creative people tend to be a little neurotic to begin with, and I believe that comes with a lot of uncertainty and doubt. There's a lot of self-questioning that comes with being in the design business.
Go for a retreat, in your mind. Its eerily satisfying!
It's different for someone like me to be creatively charged at all times. Being a freelancer has its pros and cons, and right now its inclined more towards the bad bits - not because my work projects came to a halt but the fact that I couldn't make myself sit in a creative zen, no matter how much I wanted to. We've been romanticizing the value of me-time for artists for centuries - think of poets, authors, musicians, illustrators, designers; the notion that isolation from society is the truest way for artists to extract all the juice of life. The good thing being, we've never been more connected, more wired, more social-but-not in a very real way. Of course there are some (or many) like me who can't help but become self-aware of the situation and inflict feelings of negativity once in a while.
Much like everyone else, we notice ourselves frequently asking questions about the current challenges we're facing and are yet to face - How can I be more productive during such a crisis? How to connect with more people than ever, from complete isolation? Is the world going to change? Do I have to change with the changing times? Ironically, these challenges are exactly whats bringing us all together, making it easier to deal with our new condition of collective isolation.
“Creativity is also our unique way of expressing ourselves, so through art, music, writing and crafting, we are nourishing our emotional and mental health. For many, it is our way of making sense and responding to the world and sharing our response with others. Even the wonderful people who are providing essential services for our communities and who may not have a lot of spare time, creative expression can provide an important way to de-stress, express how they are feeling and hopefully find some enjoyment too. Of course, I’m not saying that creativity doesn’t also have its challenges. Many of us are filled with self-doubt around our ability to be creative.” Lilian Wissink, through her book “The Creative Seed,” talks about the need to unlock everyone’s natural creativity, and believes it is important to look to creativity during this time of social isolation.
Wissink wants to show how creative everyone can be. What if you think you aren’t creative?
“This is such a common myth,” she says. “People forget that they are already creative in their everyday lives. Whether they are working out a new recipe for dinner, planning how to construct a flower bed or how to conduct meetings whilst isolated. We continually use problem solving skills and draw on our unique qualities such as imagination and determination, to manage different parts of our life and thus we can all develop our creativity in new ways.
Towards the start of this year, I got to working on a thesis on the concept of 'Solitude'. Believe you me, I was absolutely dumbfounded by the amount of data I uncovered, especially the studies done by many scientists, explorers, schools and universities, starting from the grass-root level to the highest level of the chain when it comes to working creatively in isolation. I used to believe in solitude being a luxury only a few can afford whereas the rest, like me, were bound to mingle with the crowd, keeping your name at the top of the VIP list. Soon after, I realized its a need wanted by many! You can't expect your life to turn around and give you grace if you haven't ever swam in a pool of solitude or tasted a drop of quiet in all your years of existence. Of course, too much of it will not lead you to do any good either.
I never knew the importance of that thesis until now. Its ironic how I worked on a research so closely, yet I never adopted or preached a single practice from it. In fact, let me share a few of my favorite and most astoundingly apt sayings for you here:
‘Strange things happen when you live alone. When you’re no longer required to eat dinner at a particular time, or to close the bathroom door to shower, your relationship to the space around you changes. All of a sudden it is things, rather than other people, that seem to direct your thoughts.’ (Maughan, 2016)
‘By not giving ourselves the minutes — or hours — free of devices and distractions, we risk losing our ability to know who we are and what’s important to us.’ (Alan Lightman)
'The best creative minds are flexible, and spend quality time working alone, but they don't ignore the value of other ideas.' (Unknown)
‘We’re given opportunities to practise being alone every day, almost every hour. Go on a drive. Sit on a lawn. Stick your phone in a drawer. Once we start looking, we find solitude is always just below the surface of things. I thought at first that solitude was a lost art. Now I know that’s too pretty a term, too soft a metaphor.’ (Michael Harris)
'Human relationships are rich and they're messy and they're demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.' (Sherry Turkle)
*The paper is up for download here in case this concept interests you.
Solitude nurtures creativity and the true understanding of the same right now will certainly make things easier for you and for all of us. With this opportunity being given to us, be it even due to a pandemic, tune into your inner self, start from scratch, and make this a period of fertile isolation.
I’m a believer that there’s a lot you can do with nothing. But certainly, the circumstances have made me say, ‘Okay, you’ve been saying this, what are you doing about it right now? How true does this turn out to be for me? Its not all that true. But I want it to be, so bad. There's a lot I want to do and there's a lot on my mind, there are things we wish they'd come to us easy, there are opportunities we seek, opportunities we'd kill for. This is a race with no finish line. Or an unfinished symphony. It’s also going to take some endurance.
As for me, and for all of us I'd say, this is just the beginning. We're moving into a changed world and we'll have to do this together.
Stay Home. Stay Safe. Stay Creatively Driven. Or Not.