Creating is Hard

Lately, it’s been raining on the weekend here in Oakland. And usually part of me is grateful for gray on my days off because it makes it seem more ok to slow down, to ride a different wavelength. Usually the coziness of a rainy day moves me to create – and often on perfectly glorious, sunny weekends, I have daydreamed of those more dimly lit days where I’m curled over my guitar in my bedroom alone, plucking strings and writing lyrics. Usually, those gray days give a welcomed excuse to sink into some personal darkness for a moment, into a sweet space of memory, but also imagination and what could be. Those are days where a lot of my art and music has been created.

But recently, rainy weekends don’t inspire me. They make me feel even more confined than ever. And, even with all this darkness to lean into, it’s been feeling really, really hard to create. I find myself scrolling endlessly on the interwebs through friends’ explosions of art, reading with some silly level of jealousy about what creative initiatives others have launched during this time of stillness. Even with all of this great creativity in the air, after a week of working full-time, and spending a lot of the rest of the time worrying or wondering, I honestly feel too tired to make anything for myself. And a lack of creative flow, along with everything else these days… Let’s just say I’ve been buying chocolate in bulk and have the homepage of Netflix memorized. I’m not proud of it.

This morning, in a call with some other creative colleagues, we talked about how these days we vacillate daily between explosive inspiration to create something bigger than ourselves, and the absolute inability to move. A paralyzing expression of ‘what’s the point?’. Finally, when echoed by some creative people I respect and admire, I had a sense of relief towards that feeling. One of my colleagues called it a trauma response.

We’re somehow expected to spin on a dime, change our practices, adjust our missions, pivot our businesses. And while we, especially in the nonprofit world, have been told this is our time to shine, this whole thing is also… exhausting. We’re used to working hard to only make small steps forward, but now we’re expected to do even more, all while our funding is dwindling, our jobs are insecure, and it feels like every time we leave the house we put our own and everyone else’s lives in danger.

So, if it feels hard to move, and it feels hard to make, what else is there that we can do to feel like we’re harnessing this period of change in a productive, opportunistic way?

I’ve been thinking – what about just… imagining?

I recently read this article from The New York Times, written by a New York restaurant owner, about her grief in losing her business. She writes about how after letting go all of her dedicated family of a staff, and closing her doors after 20 years of business, she spends hours just sitting quiet and still inside the empty restaurant. With nothing else to do, she just dreams of what her little resilient restaurant will be when she can finally reopen. She writes,

“I want round tables, big tables, six-people tables, eight-tops. Early supper, home before midnight. Long, lingering civilized Sunday lunches with sun streaming in through the front French doors. I want old regulars to wander back into the kitchen while I lift the lids off the pots and show them what there is to eat…”

She dreams of a restaurant experience that feels like something from another time, something that feels somehow too intimate and homey for the New York City food scene. But if we’re currently creating this ‘new normal’ and we have no real idea of what it can and can’t be, there aren’t any limits on our imagination. Why couldn’t the future be as sweet and intimate as this dream?

If we’re all here now, living in a relative vacuum of what our previous life was, even with no energy to create, we can find some clarity on the things we really want. The things we most crave now – for both our personal and work lives – are at the center of our desires, so it’s important to take note of them. Have you ever put words to what you want, and then realized later – sometimes days, sometimes years – that you’d found it? Even if you’re not on a linear path to get there, even if you feel like you’re just floating through life for a while, somehow, if you are serious enough about a vision, it seems to manifest? This is what I’m going for. Without much direction, we’ve all got to be the creative directors of our lives now. We all get – and have – to be the designers and engineers of our future world. And maybe if we aren’t up for building just yet, we can at least start concepting.

It might be uncomfortable to pause, when it feels like there’s so much pressure to shift, move, to work harder. But if it all just feels too hard, maybe now is the time for scribbles in a notebook and staring out a window or door onto an empty street for hours on end. Maybe now is the time for dreaming. And maybe tomorrow the moving and the creating and the songs will come.

So, what is it that you want on the other side of this? What are you craving for yourself, your business, your community?

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