Nine months into this pandemic, it’s time to take an honest look at what it has done to our creativity.
Manuscript drafts remain untouched or half-heartedly tended to. Camera gear mostly collects dust while laying on the shelves. Pens sheathed. Journals closed. Printers silent, their ink dry.
It’s a wreck, a smoldering pile of derailed train cars. Can’t sugarcoat it.
I hear all the time that we should forgive ourselves if we lack motivation to follow through on our creative pursuits. And mostly, I agree.
Forgiveness, though, to me is just one step. But what comes next?
If we start and stop at forgiving ourselves, will we ever pick ourselves back up and try again?
I’m all for forgiving ourselves if after nine months of quarantine we remain short of what we hoped to achieve when this pandemic began and we began working from home. But I’m not satisfied with stopping there.
Before, however, I can move on, I think it’s important to begin being curious about just what exactly is zapping our creativity dry. It’s not enough to just blame the pandemic. There’s more to it, I suspect.
You should investigate this, too. What is it exactly about your environment or circumstances which create barriers to finding motivation to write or photograph?
Stress? No duh. We were stressed out before the pandemic but still we made images and wrote stories. No, something specific is causing this stress in the here and now. Something specific is blocking our motivation, and if we’re going to move beyond self forgiveness and into a more productive 2021, we should investigate further.
Here’s what I found in my own life:
My house is a perpetual mess
We never were the tidiest family. When you have three boys, all under the age of nine, and one of them is a toddler under the age of two, it oughta be assumed your living quarters are a mess.
Parents, I know you feel me on this one.
We used to have this great house cleaning service. She’d come over once a week, and when she finished, our house look so clean you’d feel safe eating dinner off the kitchen floor.
Within 24 hours, though, it’d go right back to toys littering the floor, food crumbs on the couch or smeared on a wall, and we’re talking little boys here so you can imagine the condition of the bathrooms.
Now, all of us, the parents and the kids, live in this house every hour of every day. I don’t commute to the office. Neither does my wife. My kids don’t go to school.
We’re here all the time. Which means the house never gets its own break.
The result has been a perpetual battle against clutter, a Sisyphus-like endeavor that leaves us despairing. The clutter is cleaned, the clutter returns the next day, the clutter wins.
Unfortunately, that kind of environment leads me to either a.) stress eat, b.) stress eat some more and leave the dishes unwashed in the sink, c.) avoid taking photos of my boys because of what’s in the background, d.) be consumed by the guilt inherent with choosing to do something like creative writing rather than tidy up the living room.
It’s an endless cycle. And it’s dragging my creativity down the garbage disposal.
Been there, photographed it
When the pandemic began, it was clear we were about to enter a historical moment. The kind people a century from now are going to write about, study, question, debate.
I set out to start taking photos of my boys each day, to document the quarantine-at-home experience.
Here’s one of them learning on their iPads. Here’s one FaceTiming with their grandmother. Swipe to see one of them playing video games. Here’s one of them …
Eventually, it just became the same thing every day. There wasn’t much new. One month turned into three, then six, and now we’re on month nine.
There’s only so many images you can make of a kid holding an iPad. Sorry, but it’s true.
My creativity picked up once the weather warmed and we could go outside. We’re fortunate to have a pool, so that provided some new image making opportunities.
That, too, became routine after a few weeks, and so I felt my creativity fall into a drought.
We’re living Groundhog Day. It’s the same thing on repeat. And after a while, you just lose motivation without variety in your day.
Going nowhere fast
I’d be okay with reliving Groundhog Day every day if, say, I could pick a different location once the sun rose.
If I could relive a few Saturdays at the Outer Banks, that’d be great. K? Thx.
Instead, I’m sitting in the place I’ve been sitting now for 273 days. It’ll be 274 tomorrow and we’ll reach 300 before I can even begin to think about getting in line for a potential vaccine.
I know I shouldn’t let all this sameness zap my creativity. After all, I have the good fortune to live in a place with a lot of space indoor and out. I can change up my settings if I wanted to.
But to be honest, I don’t feel motivated to do so.
Before the pandemic raged as it has since the end of October, my family journeyed to the Outer Banks in North Carolina to stay for a month. We didn’t change up anything we’re doing now to stay safe. We found a beach.
And that helped kickstart some creativity. I started to write and photograph more.
Once back at home, though, the stress of my job, the stress of managing the house and kids, and the sameness of our environment, it led me back to a place of lethargy. Write? I don’t feel like it. Go out and photograph a scene? I don’t feel like it.
My wife and I want to travel again. Desperately. I think my wife’s bags are already packed and Airbnb’s I don’t even know about rented.
But virus situation right now is dire. We’re inching closer to innoculation thanks to the vaccine, but the theme of our days at the moment is “not yet.”
Just not yet.
But when the time does come, and we begin to unwind our new (not)normal, then I suspect, creativity will return in bucketloads.
We have to hang on. And if we can find bursts of creativity in the meantime, we oughta enjoy that fireworks show while we can.
What’s been zapping your creativity? And perhaps more importantly, what are you doing about it or would like to do about it?
Dave Pidgeon has been working out of his basement since the pandemic began, moving his desk four times in search of a place that might be a little inspiring. He lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons. You can email him at email@example.com.