There’s a thought that I find myself having a lot lately. A voice in my head that’s whispers over and over, “You aren’t creating enough”.
“You aren’t writing, therefore you’re no longer a writer.”
Pressure is a heavy burden to bear, especially self-pressure, the weight of all the expectations we place on ourselves. As artists and creators, as writers, musicians, photographers and designers, whatever our craft may be, if we do not create for extended periods of time, we start to doubt ourselves. Our identity comes into question. It’s a false narrative of course, but one I still find myself grappling with time and time again. Am I still me in these moments, these months, when I am not creating?
There’s a Stephan Fry quote that I saved on my notes app years ago, which I recently stumbled upon. It reads:
Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.
I resonate with this notion, that I am not the things I do and yet still, I struggle with the fact that for the better part of this year, I have felt creatively stifled.
It’s not that the ability to create has been lost, but rather the energy. The motivation. That inexorable compulsion to carve words into paper and make sense of the teeming river of emotion running rampant inside of me. Creation for me, as both a kid and a young girl on her intrepid adventures was never about a means to an end. It was never about creating for consumption or external validation but simply for joy, for creations sake, to feel alive inside.
People always say be careful about turning your passion into your job, it might just kill the love you have for it. There’s truth in that. But the systems within which we are bound mean that we all have to convert our skills into something monetizable. And often we come to find that stuck inside these capitalistic constraints our zest to make something for nothing gets watered down or dried up completely.
Mix these feelings with the small fact of a global pandemic, recovery from cancer, living alone in foreign city separated from close friends and family, with a healthy dose of physical exhaustion and mental fatigue and you have a perfect recipe for creative stagnancy.
It goes without saying that this year has been a strange, subdued, intense period of hibernation, isolation and solitude. Of reflection, healing, introspection and a touch of depression.
Since March this year, when the world went into lockdown and I was deemed vulnerable once again, I have found myself reverting back to that all too familiar survival mode. The “keep calm and carry on” approach. It’s a mechanical mentality that, granted, has helped me to endure severe trauma. It’s what kept me alive in the hospital. But it isn’t an ideal state. In survival mode one is simply putting two feet in front of another. Time becomes blurred. Things become disorientated.
Truthfully, I think most of the world was forced into this state in March. Confined to our homes, we all went found ourselves navigating unknown territory, desperately clinging to these flimsy lifeboats of normality, as our worlds fell apart. Perhaps that’s why time this year has felt so distorted, months blended into one another.
As the crisis unfolded, it was hard to do anything but wake up, work for 8 hours, scroll social media, and attempt to sleep. There were bouts of manic energy, where I threw myself into new exercise regimes, binge drinking and hour long zoom chats. Moments of joy and euphoria amidst the mundanity of the Groundhog Day we were all living. But mostly, it was lonely and confusing and tough.
I didn’t want to reflect, but rather hibernate, wrap my thoughts in cotton wool clouds and shelve them in my mind for another day.
Truth is I realised that sometimes it’s ok to accept that trauma and difficult times do not evoke creativity or inspiration.
This year has not been about creating but healing. Mainly alone. In a small London flat. It’d been about slowing down and internalising the pain of the past few years. Granted, after years of nonstop movement, grief and illness, travel, university degrees and relationships, I really just needed rest.
But now, as the year slowly draws to an end, I can feel myself beginning to ascend out of this period of hibernation.
Most writers will be familiar with the classic airplane soul dump. That period of quiet and calm when one is cruising through the skies at 800km’s per hour, high above the city lights and never-ending distractions, and the words gush out, like water spewing from a burst dam. Finally, empty time and space to pour out ones thoughts.
I had a moment with myself, as I was packing up my flat after two years of calling London my home, “Did I do what I came here to do?”
The reality is I did move to London with ambition but when I really think about it, I didn’t have all that many expectations. I simply wanted to experience being in my mid-twenties in one of the world’s greatest cities.
I imagine if a stranger were to reflect upon my two years in London they would laugh at my original “plans”.
But thank god I’ve learned (and I think we all have now) that nothing goes according to plan and planning itself is futile. That anything can happen and there really is no time but the present. That’s where it all happens and always will happen.
I’m going home now because that brave girl who wanted to move to the city and be tough and wild and courageous is a little worn out. She’s tired of the solitude, although it taught her infinite lessons on self-love and resilience. She’s weary of the rat race, burnt out, exhausted. She’s ready for the closeness of a lover and the delicious laughter of her oldest friends, her father’s companionship and the smell of the ocean on her doorstep.
Albeit, this isn’t a denunciation of London. For although my body is weary and ready for change, my God has that city taught me a lot. It’s given me a strength I never knew existed within me, a love of solitude I will cherish for life. The ability to cycle alone through midnight streets, the light of the kebab shop signs illuminating my path, feeling empowered, independent. It’s given me beers with friends in the park, and canal walks in the springtime. It’s given me resilience to survive winters alone with cancer, to endure. It’s given me delicious meals, wild house parties that lingered till 4 in the morning, profound conversation, bus top reflections and appreciation. Appreciation of my ability to move to a city alone and make something of myself.
These lives of ours have seasons, seasons where we are ravenous for stimulation, for the fast-paced churn of the city life, for the crowded bars and the late nights, for the chaos and the excitement. There are seasons when we feel like we’re bursting with creativity and the desire to write and make and do, and we shouldn’t deny ourselves these feelings. When the urge comes, we should follow.
But there is also a season for slowing down. A time to return to our roots. To make peace with the fact that our cup is a little empty and in order to refill it we have to nest for a bit. We need to shelter after the storm. We need to be held by our loved ones and allow our cup to be refilled by the old comforts of our childhood and the people who know us best. We need to be kind to ourselves, be gentle and let go of the pressure we put on ourselves to be doing and creating and making and producing. Sometimes the words don’t come. Sometimes all we want to do is binge series and eat crisps and scroll on social media. Sometimes we want to sit in nature and escape the screens and the alarms and the demands. There’s a season for everything.
My season of pjs and facetime, of my own company, over and over again and again, has come, quietly to an end.
A new season is here – one where I surrender to what my heart needs, not what my head thinks it should do. To be held and nurtured and feel supported by the mountains that I call home and the friends that live beneath them.
I’ll end this post with my favourite quote from the Tao:
There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, a time for being in danger. The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them. She lets them go their own way and resides at the centre of the circle.