A Blocked Creative During COVID-19

I want to preface this post declaring that my intention is not to self-improvement shame people. I recognize that it’s hard for many of us to concentrate on anything, especially for those who are economically insecure at the moment. I am speaking to those of us who have been struggling with their creativity even before this public health crisis dystopia descended upon our world (boy, is this shit show exposing the gaps in our systems or what?).

People are going fucking crazy. Being stuck at home can be a soul-sucking experience, especially for extroverts.

The multiple personality tests I’ve taken show that I am a balanced extrovert/introvert (55%-45% respectively). And, as much as I love my alone time, I get sad when I don’t talk to people for long periods. No hanging out at the bar, no going to the gym, no shopping. All gone. Now you’re stuck at home with your cute dog and a diet-soda version of social contact that is Zoom. And, now that you are probably consuming more media, you’re tired of your cousin’s IG stories of her 4th try at gourmet waffles this week (*hovering on Unfollow*).

Daily Life

After living in the shitshow that is COVID-19 for over a month, I realized that my life hasn’t changed that much. Aside from not seeing my friends and my lovely boyfriend (which, don’t get me wrong, is still a major bummer), my original decision of having taken a career break for the last two years (and only working sporadically) is quite like living in quarantine—only now it’s both a physical and mental mindset. There are many days of not doing much and hanging out with my thoughts or waiting for my friends to get off work so I can see them, except now I Zoom with them.

When I was completing the travel portion of my career break, I chose not to stay in hostels for a good chunk of the time. I stayed in solitary Air BnBs where I wasn’t sharing space. I wrote my morning pages (journaling) and asked myself what I wanted to do that day. During my travels, there were days when I didn’t leave my AirBnBs—not exactly a vacation-y thing you’d do. Even though I was cooped up at ‘home’ I was still in a different city and a different frame of mind. And I enjoyed the solitude. I loved it—to the point where I felt guilty for enjoying time alone (that’s another story).

I would meander the streets of cities I was visiting alone, which is what I’ve been doing after I get off work these days now that downtown Toronto is a ghost town (while socially-distancing of course), with it being COVID-19 times and all. Ironically, when I was walking the streets pre-quarantine, I thought to myself, how lovely and peaceful would it be if the streets were empty, so that I could get a strong feel of the spaces I was visiting. Guess my connects up in Universe Headquarters were listening to me loud and clear. Careful what you wish for, right?

Now that I am living in Toronto with this pandemic, the result has been similar. Even more extra time opened up for me, since the physical presence demands of my social life went poof. So, I had to find a way to fill my days in a healthy, it’s-a-sprint-not-marathon kinda way.

Distractions

This shitshow exposed something painfully obvious to me. Scrolling through my Facebook feeds, Instagram stories, and news sites made me realize what I knew about myself, and of most humans all along: that pre-COVID-19, we were all inherently, perpetually distracted.

Pre-dystopia, you can just go to the bar and hang with your friends instead of work on that manuscript or go shopping instead of hauling your ass to the studio. It was so easy to table creative callings. Now that all those things are literally gone (it all came down after the NBA cancelled its’ season and Forrest Gump got the cooties), it’s just you, your creativity and silence. Or in my case, my creative block, which up until this point, I was using a small but somewhat effective ice pick to break. To give you context, this block is the size of The Wall in Game of Thrones. Baby steps.

People spending time at home looking for ways to amuse themselves is ignoring what this pandemic is trying to teach us: to hang out with ourselves and deal with all the shit that’s been put on the (for the sake of this blog) creative back burner.

Benefits of a REAL Timeout

As a blocked creative, I oddly felt…relief. And here’s why:

When I was creatively blocked, I felt pressure to get out there, hustle, network, blah blah blah—especially since I was toying with acting. I felt that people were gaining ground on me (though I always reminded myself that I’m only competing with yesterday’s version of me). I felt like the world was passing me by and I didn’t give myself the permission to just well…create. To the outside, I looked like a procrastinator that wouldn’t take action, but on the inside, I was struggling with major anxiety and analysis paralysis. And don’t get me wrong, I still am.

But now that the world has stopped in its’ tracks, that feeling is gone—temporarily at least. I don’t feel that people are doing cool shit without me or gaining ground on me. It’s a timeout for the whole world. In addition, exactly the day before the world halted, I scored a temporary job in a financial-service company where I didn’t do much all day and got paid well.

A low-demanding job and timeout from the world is giving me a chance to do a few things:

a) Hanker down and do shit I wanted to do with no distractions, like write more on this blog.

b) Dig up my creative ideas and see what I can do with them, like think about acting again, look at art and on really good days, make art (side-bar: my creative ideas were previously on mental hold because the financial stress of living in one of the most expensive cities in the world with practically no income was starting to take its toll on me).

c) Pay serious attention to and fix my endless consumption of media in the form of junky Facebook posts, crappy Instagram stories, and sensationalized news (I am internally crying at the state of our journalism today).

The Toxicity of Information Overload

First, let’s dial back in time. I’m a glutton for information. I like to read up on stuff and consume information like it’s air. That’s one of the reasons I did a Library and Information Science degree, because I felt like information gave me power. Power to better myself. Self-isolation gave me a chance to go crazy on that habit. I was super click-happy browsing the internet.

For the first few weeks, all I did was read and watch the news. I thought to myself, might as well get all this shit out of my system. I knew I couldn’t turn away– it was like watching a train wreck combined with a cliff-hanging Mexican telenovela. Trump was going apeshit. The media was going apeshit. Health professionals who never had to deal with anyone other than their peers and patients, were now having to practice public speaking skills. Older celebrities were dying. Someone you know was getting it, and worst-case scenario, dying as well. I just.couldn’t.turn.away.

In addition to social media and the news, I went through countless e-mails from mailing lists I subscribed to. Think of that e-mail with a curious headline that remained unread in my inbox ‘for later’. I wanted to get digitally organized.

I sat down and read a lot of articles on topics that interested me and tuned in to podcasts I’d been meaning to listen to. It was passive education. I was bettering myself right? I read, watched and listened. It was like I couldn’t get enough—and then I did.

After about a week or two of combing through all my ‘should-read’ information, things I thought would make my life better, I was DONE. I unsubscribed to a tonne of mailing lists because I was inundated. One could say that I didn’t pace myself, and that was true. But I also arrived at a few glaring conclusions:

  1. I already knew a lot of the things I was learning (yes, even when I ventured out to learning about subjects I would never really consider learning about. Or rather, I was never really that curious about said subjects in the first place).
  2. Most of the stuff on the internet, even if it’s from a business you respect, is pure junk (read number 1 again).

They say that content is king, and yes, it is. It’s king if you wanna win the click-bait game, it’s king if you want to gain non-committal followers, and it’s king if you want people to subscribe to your mailing list. The problem though, is that most content that is churned out is not king. It’s more like a rat in a sewer under the street who keeps crying wolf.

Yes, many a time, producing enticing content will meet your marketing goals. But, there is such thing as information overload. And to be completely blunt, most content created is just plain fucking awful. There’s pressure to churn out stuff to remain in the newsfeed, to stay on your customer’s radar. But, I would rather hear from a business once a week or once every two weeks, than 4 times a day if it meant getting better quality content. I felt invaded. I was suddenly reminded of Naomi Klein’s book No Logo, where she talks about people losing space, identity and sense. It was EXHAUSTING.

To see the light at the end of this tunnel, because I felt an overload, I found the desire to return to working on my creative projects, like this blog. Writing on MS word was peaceful and pristine.

Coming Full Circle

I was suddenly eyeing my Pinterest feed to bake and looking up recipes again, conjuring up on what I can make from ingredients in my pantry and fridge. But, it wasn’t to keep busy—becoming busy was the effect. I turned towards activities I knew would sooth my creative soul. I turned inwards to ask myself what I really wanted, not what I was supposed to want. Case in point: I was looking at Pinterest recipes I saved and thought to myself: this doesn’t look appealing, it was what I was taught to want to find appealing.

My creative oases shut out all the bullshit that has been sucking my time and energy. I am TERRIFIED of looking at the stats of time spent on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube (especially that last one. Goshy gosh gosh).

What was the result of this experiment you ask. It’s early, but I do note the intuitive voice starting to get louder. It takes me to uncomfortable places sometimes, but fuck, that’s what I need, and it’s curious and nonjudgmental –not a finger-waggy ‘you should do this’ voice.

Setting a Gentle Pace

Don’t get me wrong, I still feel mentally sluggish, inspired, and then mentally sluggish again, all in the space of a couple of hours. Showing up to this page was a crawl after an hour or so of procrastination. And even though I sleep well, eat somewhat right and exercise regularly, I’m always tired because of COVID-19’s uncertainty.

But, I’m always glad I wrote after I finish for the day. Right now, all I can give is about 30 minutes of writing per day, and an hour or so of reading. Even if I’m not at optimal mental capacity, I’m doing it. There’s a reason why no pain, no gain is a cliche. Let’s work with that for now.

Doing a creative career change is no easy feat. Heck, simply unblocking on a daily basis is a struggle. And the more often I get uncomfortable, the easier it’s going to get, right? Here’s hoping…

What about you? What has the Coronavirus crisis done to your creativity? Has it been good? Bad? Eye-opening? Soul-sucking? Would love to hear your comments below!

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