2020 has felt like the proverbial flaming handbasket. No one needs a tragedy-porn recap of the catastrophic and apocalyptic-level trauma we’re still enduring. I will just say: Black lives matter, the pandemic is not a hoax, and I’m not about to forget how many (white) Americans saw hate/lies/open sedition and dismantling of our democratic republic and said, “Nah, I’m cool with this–keep it coming.”
In the midst of everything, is it any wonder that everyone I know is struggling? Even with my many, many layers of privilege, I’ve struggled too.
But because I intend this to be a year-end creative roundup, I am choosing to take this space and celebrate those accomplishments. And I encourage you to do this for yourself, too. Count the little things–the escapes and surprises. This year has been short on joy and the rest of it will all too easily crowd out the bright spots if you don’t actively seek them out.
At the beginning of the year, I was rehearsing for a ballet production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was finally enjoying quasi-regular writing dates when I’d leave my daughter with her grandparents to go sit and write by myself in a tea shop for an hour or two.
In February, before the encroaching pandemic touched our state, I met with friends and finally learned to knit after a lifetime of confusion, frustration, and outright avoidance. I took my two-and-a-half-year-old to a high school drama festival for the first time, which was a big deal. The day Maine announced its first case, I followed through on plans (promises) to take my kid to a playground and the library. She hasn’t been back to either since, thought they are two of her favorite places.
March and April were times of adjustment. After that first day, that first case, my busy schedule of family and friends and performing came to a screeching halt. Fear and uncertainty evolved into a miasma of anxiety. Once-weekly grocery store trips gave me a pounding stress headache and made me useless for anything else the rest of the day. But in all this sudden at-home time, I found a reprieve from the logistical exhaustion that comes with trying to do anything outside the house as the all-the-time, on-call parent. And into that new space, I read, I knitted, I made an attempt at gardening, I finally found the energy and mental space for quasi-regular crafts and baking experiments with my toddler, and I wrote.
Somehow in this mixed up mess of a year, I’ve managed to read 55 books. Knitting has become my relaxation–something I can do even with constant kid-interruptions and -distractions, that calm and centers me, in which even small progress is visceral. Instant creative gratification.
The garden attempt died. Getting outside with a toddler became an hour of struggle so daily waterings began to fall by the wayside. On top of that, I never made a real plan to get the seedlings in the ground, then rehearsals and performances ate the best planting part of the summer. Because, yes, our local numbers were low enough that outdoor theatre seemed a minimal risk. Had I known at the start that I was pregnant, I wouldn’t have done it, but I’m glad I had the chance to play a fun role and be on stage one last time. (Pandemic aside, I’m not likely to be able to get back on stage in a full production until kid #2 has his second birthday.)
Crafts with small kids are exhausting, but rewarding. And now at three, they allowed my daughter to take so much pride and ownership in Christmas gift-giving this year. I’m weirdly excited about our bag of ripped and discarded wrapping paper, since a Google search netted me some fun craft ideas.
But writing. Writing in 2020.
I took an online playwriting course and drafted a short play. I finished a novel draft. I spent a lot of time assessing and reassessing my process and have made it halfway through another novel draft. In August, I created a writing support community, which has helped push me to getting a record number of story submissions out. (A low bar, but worth celebrating!)
So my 2020 has not been a fallow period creatively. The fact that I have thrived when so many others are struggling for basic survival leaves me with a deep sense of guilt. It has been a process to get here and I’m still trying to articulate how I did in hopes that maybe it can help someone else. But that will be a future post.
And if you are in a less-than-productive time, I hope there’s some comfort in knowing that creativity also needs fallow periods. You may not see any progress or development, but it’s still happening below the surface. Know it will be there when you’re ready to come back to it.