2020 is a serious kick in the ass, isn’t it? And when you are stuck feeling like it can not possibly get worse you check the news and, well… feel like crawling back in bed. But it is realistically impossible to keep doing this day after day? So, the question I have been asking myself a lot lately is how can I refresh my routine and get back to myself when the rate of renewal feels glacial?
I feel burnt out. Burnt out by the world. Burnt out by reality shifting on a semi-daily basis. Burnt out by feeling sick and struggling with health issues. Burnt out by unmet personal exceptions. Burnt out by trying to keep up with a 7 year old with endless energy. Burnt out from worry and anxiety about things I have no control over. Making art in this state is difficult – if not impossible – most days.
In many ways I feel like my heart and mind are just too weighted to break free enough to find the mental space required to be creative. Seeing other artists and creative people online celebrating their pandemic experience as “clarifying” and “prolific” has been both inspirational and at other times, frankly annoying.
At some low points the feeling of guilt over not producing some epic quantity of output has been utterly overwhelming. On a good day I just threw myself into a project with renewed inspiration – feeling motivated with an “if they can, I can too” energy. Overall though, I lose focus all too quickly and dissolve back into my “getting through” routine. Going 110% for a day or two is fun but not tenable in the long term. At this point it seems likely that we have to look at this new normal as a potential long term reality.
Something needed to change for me – and it did (or is), thankfully. I got a jolt to my routine when my sister-in-law came to stay for a couple of weeks back in August. In preparing for her arrival I was finally forced to clean out my third bedroom which has been home to a tower of boxes since we moved in over a year ago. I used the excuse of recovering from my back surgery to justify (and alleviate my guilt for) the lack of progress in that room for far too long. I did not want to admit that I did not really want to have it available. Why would I feel that way when this space was intended primarily as my studio? Because, if it was clean and there was nothing holding me back from making art then I would feel even worse if I did not use it. Essentially, keeping my studio in boxes was a good excuse to keep from doing things I didn’t feel like doing in the first place – a smokescreen that masked the depression I was feeling. Until I needed to do this for someone else, however, I could not seem to get it together.
Cleaning my studio and unpacking the majority of remaining moving boxes was like excavating my former self – my pre-covid self. I was reminded of projects that were planned (and sometime in progress) as well as confronted by just how far away I feel from myself these days. And, after feeling cut off and alone for so long, the companionship of another adult human female when my sister-in-law did arrive (and the togetherness of family during this time) helped me start to feel a bit more me.
Throughout these experiences I was reminded of a few of my pre-pandemic habits – you know, the ones that did not involve public spaces. The combination of making space for myself, respecting my needs more, and connecting with others was a really beneficial combo. And it is possible to do all of these while still being safe.
My daughter has experienced a lot of personal trauma and upheaval in her short little life and yet EVERY morning she bounces out of bed and chipperly sings about some happy thought or how beautiful the sunrise is (because – yes – she wakes up at dawn). Even if the world is burning down, she finds something to be excited about. She is a good reminder for me to keep embracing each new day for what it is – a gift.
I now have an amazing space to work in and more free time available now that my kiddo is in school 2 days a week. I have to take advantage of the motivation I have felt recently before it dissipates! Even though I’m still working through health issues I feel better than I have in awhile mentally and I want to hold onto that feeling.
If you are in a similar slump I encourage you to play archeologist and dig through your spaces for reminders of yourself – of what is important to you. Consider cleaning or remaking your creative space. You do not have to wait for company to visit to do this – they are probably not coming.
Reconsider any projects that you forgot about recently. I suggest that you take some reusable grocery bags (you know the ones you actually used before you started getting groceries via curb-side pick up) and fill each one with a collection of materials for each project so that you have everything you need ready and waiting for you when you feel the itch later on. You may not feel it yet, but you will, and when you do you will not have the hurdle of finding things stand in your way.
Prioritize yourself in the mornings. You do not have to ditch your comfy house cloths, but, dressing like you could at least take the dog for a walk down the street or answer the door for the UPS person without embarrassment is a good start. It is not about dressing for others. They say “dress for the job you want” regarding business attire but, if you don’t have to leave for work then it’s really more about dressing for the role you want for yourself in your life – that of a healthy, active, productive person. Shower in the middle of the day if you want. Paint your nails. Pluck that super long annoying chin hair that you ignore now because “it just gets covered with a mask anyway”. Order some new clothes or a pair of shoes online. Make a new purse. Sew some crazy blinged out face masks. Something. But changing your attitude early in the day sets a tone that carries through.
Reach out. Sure, you hate Face Time when you have not showered in 4 days and have chip grease on your shirt… BUT – if you are actually prioritizing your general appearance and cleanliness more then it really isn’t so daunting. SEEING someone DOES make a difference. Try hosting a “BYOBG” (Bring Your Own Baked Good) Zoom date with several of your friends. Ask your sibling to go running with you at a nearby trail. Take your dog out on a walk at a public park and watch people from a distance. Any little bit helps keep you from feeling so cut off.
Life is bigger than 2020. Fight for it.
And for the love of all that is chocolatey… don’t forget to VOTE.
I loved your email post. Really touched a familiar spot inside of me. SO, have decided I need to clear up my creative space. The task feels like a mountainous one but I’m going to sit down and make a list of what needs doing to get this achieved and even if I only tick off one thing each day, I will get there! Thank you for your inspiring post. I’m on it!
Amen! You say much of what I have been feeling this year, except that my daughters are somehow a decade+ past seven already and no longer bound out of bed (and I am the one who wakes at dawn!). It’s so difficult to *not* compare oneself to people online, to how wonderful and productive and creative and beautiful their lives are even in the midst of a terrible pandemic. And sometimes it’s even more difficult to remind oneself that those lives are edited! — we aren’t seeing the burned bread, the quilt blocks in the wastebasket, the rooms *behind* the photographer with six months of dust, the sleepless nights of worrying about work furloughs. Why do we keep forgetting that?!
I am now going to call cleaning my desk “playing archaeologist” because that sounds miles more fun — thanks!
Enjoy your daughter’s sevenness! The days are long, but the years are short.