In the early days of shelter-in-place mandates, a message sputtered up through the waves of social media: “Now that we’re all at home, we can Do That Thing!”
For some people, “that thing” was learning a new instrument. Really digging into learning Portuguese. For many, it was perfecting sourdough bread (which I tease about, but I love sourdough bread… please keep baking!). In writerly circles, the pressure seemed to be on writing: you don’t have social engagements, so now you can finish that book.
Doesn’t matter if the person was an aspiring novelist or a seasoned author – the vision the world seemed to have of this time was a blanket of increased productivity. And while that’s nice in theory, as a rule, assuming that the change of social behavior would equate a creative revolution is more detrimental than encouraging. And I’ve seen that sentiment across all platforms.
One of the most beautifully visualized responses to this I’ve seen was a subtle one, delivered by Emily X. R. Pan (The Astonishing Color of After).
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Here is what I’ve spent the last three days crafting: My dread and fear and grief, sewn bead by precious bead. I really didn’t know what I wanted to make when I began…I ended up cutting up my pink linen shirt and stretching the fabric over one of L’s unfinished frames, and then securing the linen around the wood using one of his belt clamps, and making cardboard shims to shove into the sides to ensure it wouldn’t slide around. This probably would have been much easier with an embroidery hoop, but I didn’t have one big enough. I’ve never made anything like this before, so I didn’t exactly have the right materials and tools for it…but it worked out. It’s been so meditative to see this picture come together, to turn the stones so that they’ll catch the light and flash. These beads are from my cache of gems I’ve been hoarding over the years in order to make malas…or simply to run my fingers through. Shiny things born of the natural world make me happy. I kept saving my favorites for “the right project” and I guess, at last, this is it. In here there are tiny spheres and rondelles and faceted pieces of moonstone, labradorite, blue apatite, turquoise, gray tiger’s eye, black agate, golden obsidian, gray quartz, hematite, pale jade, mystic aura quartz, wood, and rose quartz. And maybe others which I’ve forgotten about. I’m so grateful to have a partner who will say to me: Stop trying to force yourself to work; you’re not getting anything useful done; you need to take a break from stressing about the deadlines and panicking about the news; stop all of it and go make some art. I feel much more like myself again.
For those who also follow Emily on social media, you know that this act of stepping away from her craft is incredibly challenging for her. She has her own inner self criticizing her lack of productivity constantly, and the volatile climate the world right now hasn’t helped. So for a few days, she stepped away from her writing. And created something beautiful in the process.
Not all of us will be so lucky.
While it’s all well and good to say we all have so much extra time right now, the fact of the matter is… that isn’t actually true for all of us. As an essential worker (Finance Industry), I’m still working every day, which does include leaving the safety of my home and going into the office on a rotating schedule. As an introvert, many of my choice activities have always been solo activities – reading, writing, blogging, video games, photography, painting. In the course of the last month, I’ve found myself with less time because of the need to adapt to a new work environment, and a new social environment. For myself, that has meant many more meetings and interactions via video with my more extroverted friends and coworkers.
This is no judgment on them, by the way. We take care of each other in times like these and I will keep answering my phone. But the increased social activity – albeit not in person – has left me more exhausted. And that’s without doing vulnerable things like going to the grocery store or reading the news….
And I am privledged. I still have my job, and the job I have is not on the front lines of this thing. Care workers and grocery store workers… I can’t even imagine…. Thank you, guys.
When the internet started getting flooded with “DO ALL THE THINGS!” videos and memes, I’ll confess… I got overwhelmed. I had a conversation with a friend over the weekend about how it’s not like he has any more time to read books now than he did three months ago (although yes, I will keep recommending them to him because that’s who I am). In the last couple weeks, though, there’s been a bit of a change in tune. While, yes, many people are still struggling without sports and without physical social gatherings, there’s more permission to… not be okay.
I want to share a post by Alaa Hijazi that was originally posted on Facebook and is starting to make Twitter rounds:
This pressure to “finish your book” or learn something new, or come out of this “better” or “stronger” or “smarter”… no. All we need to do it come out of this at all.
For myself, I haven’t been reading. I just put down The Historian because it couldn’t focus on it and my patience is worn so thin by the state of the world that I just… couldn’t make myself care, I guess. This is the first blog post I’ve written in a couple weeks, and even then, you will be able to see the difference in quality. The struggle. The world is hard right now, for many different people for many different reasons.
In a moment of self-criticism and determination to be the kind of “better” that the world seems to be demanding right now, I decided to jump on to Camp NaNoWriMo. While I really like Rhapsody in Blue and care about the characters I’m writing about… any writing session I’ve managed to force upon myself has been a struggle. The story was justified to myself as my way of taking control of the world in the only way I can – by structuring it myself. Instead, it feels like the world may be seeping into my story and getting under my skin.
As far as creative productivity goes… I have to give myself permission to not write. To lose. I’ve never lost NaNoWriMo before and it feels like a crushing burden, and a superficial one in the wake of all things. Because… maybe now is not the time for me.
And like me, maybe it’s not the time for you. For us. It’s okay for us not to finish our novels… right? I will support you needing to disappear into a smaller, happier world, if you will support me. It’s why I’ve spent full days in Animal Crossing: New Horizons when I can. If all I have to worry about is the price of turnips and the fact that the bugs in Cranston’s walls are teaching him how to make Iron Doorplates… then life is good. Life is better.
Are you struggling with productivity? Do you agree that we are going through a collective trauma and shouldn’t be expected to be productive? Do you feel like this time has made you a more productive person? I’d love to hear about how quarantine is affecting your reading/writing/blogging in the comments!