Changing Creative Life
Recently I’ve had to make some pretty large life decisions, as I’m sure most people reading this have. The pandemic has changed lives irreparably in so many ways, causing people to rethink their career paths, lose jobs they thought were stable, move to be closer to family, deal with increased or brand new disabilities or caregiving for loved ones with new or increased disabilities after surviving the infection, changed families as they consolidate or shift to care for orphaned members or otherwise support each other, and how chosen family has become a mainstream concept rather than just a queer or queer-crip community term.
For myself, after spending the last seven years in my 40s in college to obtain degrees for the first time in my life, I am finally leaving that life. However, I’m not leaving it as “successfully” as I had intended to — I am leaving without the MA I spent the past two years working on and instead requested a certificate in my program. I don’t want to talk here about the complex reasons I’m leaving the program with a half-written thesis and not completing it after all that work and when I’m so close. There’s a lot more to the story than what the purpose of this post is. So instead, I want to talk about something I wrote about in May 2020: The pressure to always be producing and how important it is for creative people to allow themselves quiet, contemplative time and accept that we aren’t always producing new work.
There is a part of me that feels like I will never write again. And as I have written previously,
No matter how many times I repeat this pattern, in the depression phases, my mind tells me I will never accomplish anything meaningful ever again. I will never have a good idea again. I will never complete anything. During those depressions, I also notice everything wrong with whatever I just completed before falling into the depression too. Suddenly everything I do or have done looks like trash to me.
This is a normal part of the creative process, even if you don’t have an actual mental illness like I do that contributes to those feelings. Upon completing college, it is also a pretty common feeling not to want to read, research, or write “ever again,” even if those were things one actually really enjoyed doing. It is human nature to need a break.
There are other times (and these are the times no one tells you about) when you have to let yourself rest. It is during those restful moments that you observe your surroundings, you gather your energy and ideas, you dream, and you make new connections between your observations, dreams, and research, etc.
You are not obligated to create new work during quarantine or any other personal crisis. You have the right to rest. Trust yourself that a period of rest makes it possible for you to be creative again later. Release yourself from pressures to be productive all the time.
But in my case, I have to acknowledge that there is also the issue that my brain has been profoundly impacted by having had three cases of COVID infection, a near-death experience this year (unrelated to those infections, but due to another health condition), as well as grieving (as everyone is, I know, but knowing that we are all grieving loved ones doesn’t make our grief easier or less), and the trauma of my program. My brain has been altered, and my neurodivergence, which already existed, has changed further. I don’t think I can write anymore, and I genuinely wonder if I ever will be able to again. Writing this post has been much more difficult and time-consuming than it should be.
I am thinking a lot about how different it feels right now to think I may never write anything substantial or meaningful again. I have been a writer my entire life. I was a storyteller as a toddler. Among my earliest memories is knowing I would grow up to be a writer. It has been part of who I am for that long, that not to be a writer is not to exist. So who am I if I am not a writer? Even if I am still all these other things that I have become in my life, what does it mean not to be a writer anymore?
And yet, it is also an immense relief to realize I am no longer obligated to produce writing for anyone ever again. If my brain can’t do that, it can’t do it. And there is something wonderfully freeing, actually, about not feeling like a failure for not having managed to get all the stories out of my head, never having written the memoir everyone tells me I should write, and being able to say maybe I’m just not a very good poet after all.
It actually feels okay to accept change.