How to be a Creative in Crisis
Man, we’re all hurting a little right now, aren’t we?
As a clinical optimist, I’ve been sunnily pushing through and rummaging through each day for silver linings and bigger pictures. But being optimistic about better days doesn’t dismiss the creative shut down I’ve been wading through lately.
We’re in a state of retreat - our inner child, our creative soul, is in safe hiding. Creativity, albeit seemingly free and untethered, thrives best within schedule and regime. So how can we maintain our creativity in a time of vast uncertainty?
Do the next right thing
You know those colourful parachutes in gym class where you’d put an assortment of ballpit balls on it, and give it a good toss up in the air? Doesn’t life feel a little like that right now? Everything we know is still here, just, you know, tossed around a little.
Navigating this sort of dissarray can be disorienting at the best of times, paralyzing at the worst. To shrink it down to a bite-sized digestible piece of action, I keep reminding myself “Just do the next right thing”. What is one singular step I can do today that will benefit me in the long run?
The ‘right’ thing will vary each day. Are you overwhelmed today? Maybe the next right thing is just making sure your soul is okay, and going for a walk to listen to the birds. Feeling financial stress? Maybe the next right thing is just downloading a printable budget tracking sheet. Feeling not yourself? Maybe the next right thing is to reflect on something you used to do for fun when you were younger, and block out a half hour today to get back at it.
Continuing these baby steps will compound into a sustainable and positive difference, but by boiling it down to a tangible and attainable first step in the right direction, all of a sudden, I’m moving toward the life I want in a way that doesn’t feel huge and terrifying.
You know that starfish story? There’s a tale about a boy on a beach, where thousands of starfish were washed up on the shore. He was walking along and throwing them all back into the water. A lady strolled past and said “What are you doing? It’s pointless to try to get them all back into the water, there are thousands! What difference will it make?”
The little boy kept throwing in the starfish, one at a time, saying “It makes a difference to this one, and to this one, and to this one….”
Keep at the next right thing. That’s all that great things are made of anyway.
2. This is not you, this is something you’re moving through
Something that is always tricky to remember in the moment is that we are many things, but we are not what happens to us. Yes, maybe right now we’re feeling a certain fatigue, weight, or confusion, but our only job is to step back and take care of our hearts as it passes through. It doesn’t require personal tampering, fighting, or pushing down, because it is not and never was a part of us. Circumstances don’t affect our joy, light and creativity, because they were never the source of our joy, light and creativity.
What is your source? God? Family? Nature? Lean into what feels like you, and let the rest float through you without grabbing on to it and trying to polish it up. It’s not yours to fix.
3. Be on your own side
This is hard in the best of times. Being a creative in a judgmental world is enough to stiffen up anyone's creative endeavours, but especially now, in a time of ‘is this important?’, it’s easy to hang up your dreamer shoes, shut up your ideas, and just get through the day. But this is when we need your light the most. Art is a showing of our shared humanity, and your art inspires others just by the you that is braided into it. Just a quick reminder that you are the only you to ever exist, and that ever will exist. If that’s not enough proof that you need to get all of your ideas out into this world before your time here is done, then, I don’t know man, have a nap and read this again. And if you’re like me and make a hobby of listing the reasons of why you’re not qualified to do the things you love, check yourself. This was never about you, this is about your ripple effect. How will you inspire others? How can you make a difference with what you love - hear that? What you love. Not what your resume points to, not what impresses others, not what cushions that wallet - what. you. love. Use that as your reference point: do you love that thing you want to do? Okay, great, that’s enough reason to be your own cheerleader. Now is an incredible time to step back, take inventory of your life, and choose to recover your backburner-ed loves moving forward, but if you’re not on your own side, how can you expect anyone else to be? Watch that you don't make it more than what it is, and let your internal compass lead you without your fears putting up roadblocks. There's enough of those out there without you helping them out.
4. Stay Malleable
Everything is usable. Right now, if you’re feeling blocked, take notes from these experiences. The beauty of being a creative is that nothing in this life is wasted. We’re all in the business of making something out of seemingly nothing - conversations and day-to-days have all been turned into art. So, as tempting as it is to lock up the ol’ heart until it feels safe to go out again, I challenge you to feel every dip and dive of this rollercoaster. I challenge you to lean into every moment instead of numbing or escaping, and get it down on paper. It is quite a beautiful thing that we are living through this chaos together, and although we’re all feeling its effects in different ways, we’ve been given a moment in time to understand each other a little better, relate to each other more, and connect in a way we haven’t been able to before. Any art that comes of this will be so deeply connected to, because our souls are already doing a certain extent of nodding at each other in empathy.
Don’t put any pressure to create right now, we’re all just doing our best to make it through, but please, don’t turn off your receptors.
Stay open, stay inspired, and turn this on its head to make something beautiful. Isn’t it amazing that we can do that? Breakups can become hit songs, tragedies can become cathartic films, hard life stories can become beautiful biographies - we are so fortunate, as artists, that everything that hurts can be made material. We can regain our creative force by claiming every moment as research. This is just part way through an unwritten narrative, just you WAIT until things turn around and we gather all of the periods to the unfinished sentences, all of the meaningful endings to this climax. Everything will make sense soon enough, until then, stay malleable.
5. Practice Gratitudes
Yes, practice. Being grateful is a muscle that needs to be worked. And in days that make up the past few months we've been living in, our saving grace is going to be the light of gratitude.
There’s a misconception that being grateful ignores all of the garbage in your life, stamps it down and yells ‘EVERYTHING’S FINE”. However, I think remaining grateful means acknowledging the negatives, and searching for positives that are equally true. Match them with an ‘and’ instead of a ‘but’. For example, I’m truly bummed that summer is ending, and I got to smell deliciously fragrant dewey autumn air this morning.
It feels like there has been so much bad news lately, and it’s easy to lose resiliency. It’s like we’ve been holding a water glass straight out in front of us for months - not heavy at first, but over time, absolutely exhausting. And I think the bad news is getting harder to handle, because we haven’t had our usual highs to outweigh them. When we’re already feeling low on a day-to-day basis, some negative news stories are just what we need to wipe us out. So, it’s an important practice to say ‘yes, I see you’ to the heavy stuff, but marry it to the positives. See that they can co-exist. See that you can be scared and hopeful. See that you can be low and growing. Rest in the in-between and give thanks for everything you can today, tomorrow and the next.
Most of all, what I wish for you all is hope. I pray you are still guided by hopeful decisions instead of fearful ones. I wish you encouragement, in a world that feels so disheartening right now, I hope you cling to every internal urge of ‘it’ll get better’. Yes, the days look different, and your life looks different, but different isn’t a synonym for worse. You can still find the magic in today, be grateful for the shakeup, and slowly move toward more joyful tomorrows.