When the pandemic first began, mixed in with the fear and uncertainty was the suggestion that lockdown could be a time of great personal productivity. You can’t really go outside or engage in regular social activities, so why not finally write that novel, sew that quilt, paint that masterpiece, renovate that garage, bang out that script, draw that comic?
Anecdotes about Shakespeare writing King Lear under plague quarantine were legion, as though we might all have a King Lear in us ready to be unlocked by a lack of dining out options. Then a blessed pushback came: it was okay if you could get nothing much accomplished during this strange and trying time! It’s enough just to survive. Capitalism has trained us into believing uber-productivity is the only way to be. But this is a global pandemic unprecedented in our era. If coping means binge-watching comfort TV or endless Animal Crossing or staring blankly into space in your off-hours, that’s just fine.
And it is. And that’s how I’ve passed a great deal of my “free” moments while holed up in my pocket-sized apartment. Generally, I don’t regret it. I recognize that I am lucky to still have a job that I can do from home, and have an easier time with time management than parents and other caretakers. My daily concerns cannot even begin to approach workers on the front lines of the virus. But what happens when you do want to be productive with your spare time—yet have found that there’s no creative productivity to be had? What if you’re not trying to write the great American novel, just trying to get concepts you like on a page, and it’s suddenly an insurmountable task? We’re left adrift.
Creativity is not a frivolous endeavor. It keeps many of us grounded and produces the art that keeps others entertained. It feels awful when it seems to just up and disappear.
That’s what I’ve been experiencing since March, and I find it extremely disconcerting. I’m a writer, and my favorite feeling is to be consumed by that act: to be so involved in spinning a story that I want to do little else. Flush with a tale to tell, I stay up until all hours of the night getting it down, pass weekends in a haze of words, and craft some of my finest scenes in the shower. Every writer knows the frustrations and agonies of writing, but I also find it to be an incomparable escape. I’ve been lacking that for months, and I miss it more than anything from the time “before.”
Despite my best efforts, I feel as though my creative side is completely dead, or at least in a deep hibernation. There’s no spark, no motivation, and when I commit to a daily word count for the sake of accountability, grinding them out feels like a chore. This doesn’t feel like normal writer’s block—it feels like a lack. Since I was an adolescent, much of my writing output has been bound up in fixations—on an event in history, a fantastical world, a fandom—and yet I feel incapable of even fixating. There’s a sort of numbness where there should be a constant frisson of excitement and focus around a central idea.
Now, like we covered, I think this is understandable. There’s still a global pandemic outside, which for several months was exploding in my native city of New York. A perpetual state of worry about my health and the health of my loved ones, the economy, the election, and the horrible escapades our current President engages in daily leaves little time to generate mental energy. Add to that the almost comedic parade of 2020 headlines like murder hornets, aliens space crafts, and mystery seeds, and it’s a wonder we’re not all just staring out the window 24/7 hoping the aliens will actually arrive to take us away from here.
But giving myself a bit of a break doesn’t mean that my lack of creativity doesn’t bother me greatly. It does. The only time I’ve felt anything close to this void was after the 2016 election. The first few months passed in a sort of shock—I was so angry, frightened, and anxious ab0ut the future that I was certain I’d never write fiction again. After a while, to my great relief, this feeling retreated, and I was able to fixate and write with prodigious output again. In our current situation, however, my numbed lack of creative motivation has already gone on far longer and seems to show no signs of abating.
If everyone were in the same boat, I might be able to relax and accept the “well, it is a pandemic” point, but several of my friends and writing acquaintances seem to be creating more than ever. They’re utilizing their time inside and are cranking out everything from stories to songs to cross-stitches. Maybe it boils down to personality type; some people are also decluttering, cleaning, and organizing their living spaces, and I am … very much not doing that. Yet it’s hard not to look at these folks and their lovely creations and not feel envy and a sense of confusion about just how they’re pulling it off.
On the other hand, I think that I’m not alone in feeling a complete creative brain-drain right now. And I suspect that others find it as frustrating and upsetting as I do—not because we’re not composing King Lear, but because it feels like an essential part of ourselves is missing.
If you’ve found ways to rekindle your creativity and feel like sharing, tell us in the comments, or if you’re experiencing the same thing and want to commiserate, I’ll see you there. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling like you can’t produce art right now. It may even be an important self-protective instinct, a bumper barrier for our brains. But that doesn’t mean we can’t mourn even the temporary the loss of something so defining.
(image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels)
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