In this essay I hope to explain, through self-reflection, how I best nurture my creative energy. It’s a rather self-centered piece of writing, its purpose being to help me in the future when I get into a creative slump. Perhaps it could be of help to others interested in creative work too. It is not meant to be a list of all my accomplishments or a passive request for praise, although it certainly could look that way. And it certainly is not meant to make anyone feel like their behavior during quarantine or any other difficult time was lazy or unproductive or otherwise should have been different. Each of us is going to behave differently. If you were meant to behave like me, you would, in fact, be me. But it turns out, each of us is an individual, and any hope of being like someone else, or any feelings of shame at not being like someone else, is unfruitful. I appreciate when others share their experiences and voices. By definition, they will be different from mine. I can always find value in those differences -it’s something I love to do, and I deeply appreciate the rich variety of experience and expression within humanity.
For me, quarantine began when I had surgery to remove my gallbladder on March 20, 2020. For over three years something had felt “off” in the bottom of my ribs/middle of my abdomen. Sometimes it ached, sometimes it burned, sometimes it felt swollen, sometimes it felt fine, but it always felt like my top half and my bottom half were somehow disconnected. Not sure how to describe that last part. It was like there was a block in that part of my body that prevented two healthy parts from working well together. I wasn’t very sick by any means, but I wasn’t in full health. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, I had a lot of lows during that time, some of which I’m sure were related to my gallbladder. Finally in March I had a gallbladder attack, found out what was going on, and chose to have surgery a few weeks later.
Recovery was hard the first week. I couldn’t eat much, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t listen to any books, music, or podcasts. All I wanted was silence and stillness. Every day I could hobble around a little more and I would go outside, which made my pain diminish. I began to think about my summer garden. I did not want planting time to pass me by, so, with Samuel and my kids’ help, I got everything planted. I would plant one or two seedlings, then go inside and rest. The go out and plant a couple more. It was only thing I had energy for during those first couple weeks.
I began to recover rapidly after that. I still checked the garden multiple times a day. But I also began to do more. I didn’t have mental space to read much, but I began to focus more on my health. I made a plan to work up to walking 10,000 steps a day. I wanted to take better care of myself, and I wanted to feel and look healthier. Getting to 10,000 steps was hard and I seemed to hit a block at around 5,000, unless we went on a family walk. I felt mostly recovered, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. About one month after my surgery, I still felt mostly unable to read or do much work besides gardening. I spent my days sitting on the couch scrolling through sad, scary news and social media, feeling anxious and unable to escape from it. Samuel was feeling similarly and as we talked that night we resolved to put some structure into our lives to see if it would help.
The next morning I woke up at 6:30am to go for a walk by myself. This was so wonderful. I did it again and again. Every day I woke up early, every day I walked by myself, a little further down the road each time. I craved it. One day I walked all the way to the end of the road and back (2.7 miles, about 50 minutes.) This made getting my 10,000 steps feel effortless for the first time ever. Where a year or two ago walking this much would have wiped me out for the rest of the day, now it seemed to barely put a dent in my energy level. If anything, it energized me. (I attribute this stamina to solving the gallbladder problem, with a side of eating healthier.) I felt full of life and ready to do things, and I knew it was because I was alone for an hour first thing in the morning. Before checking social media, before my kids need me, I got to spend one blissful hour in solitude. A quote by C.S. Lewis kept popping into my head: “I entered with complete satisfaction into a deeper solitude than I have ever known.” Except I had known it before, I realized. In my late teens and before kids, whenever I became absorbed in an art project or book or poem or CD. My whole world was just me and myself, creating something or being inspired by something. Sure, I had had moments of this creative solitude as a mom, but they were infrequent and short.
I began to look for more solitude in my days, and simultaneously, I found more mental space as well. I started reading and sewing again. About this time I read “Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.” I’ve known about this book for years but was avoiding it because I love Instagram. I love to feel inspired. Inspiration gives me creative energy, which leads to creativity and more joy in my life as I develop skills and am able to shape my life and environment to bring me joy. The things I share on social media usually tend towards the “look what I did/made/read” because I want to share that feeling of inspiration. My favorite people to follow on social media are the ones that post what they’ve accomplished lately. It fuels me. My main problem with social media is the trap of wanting to feel inspired, so I log on and spend hours feeling inspired by others without actually doing or making anything. What follows is feeling depressed that I’m not doing anything with my life, not feeling that creative energy, so I go back online to get another easy fix. And the cycle continues.
“Minimalism is the art of knowing how much is just enough. Digital minimalism applies this idea to our personal technology. It’s the key to living a focused life in an increasingly noisy world,” -so says the book. As I read it I realized that my craving for more solitude was being denied by my overuse of social media, and that less solitude equalled less creativity equalled less joy. It’s not that social media is bad, or that being connected to so many loved ones is bad (obviously.) It’s that the social media apps are engineered to be as addictive as possible. Every day, every spare bored moment, I reached for my phone without even thinking. I filled my head with others’ inspiring posts, without taking any time to just be quiet and alone. This book explained to me that I need to be more intentional with how I use social media, especially since my life at home with kids is anything but quiet and solitary. Sure, I can use Instagram for creative inspiration. But do I really need to use it for hours every day to achieve that purpose? Absolutely not. More like an hour a week, tops. If I want to feel happy, the remaining hours should be used for actually creating. So after I read this book I set an intentional schedule for using social media. In addition to that, I stopped listening to music or audiobooks on my morning walks. The problems I solved and the cool ideas I came up with on those silent walks have proven to me how starved my mind was for quiet time to process my life.
With all the extra time no longer spent online, I started to dig deep at home and build in more structure: daily and weekly plans, cleaning checklists, homeschool, running 5Ks on the treadmill, cleaning windows inside and out, ripping down wallpaper, sewing, reading books, dialed up to eleven because I had more energy now than I’ve had in years. I felt healthy and inspired. Many of these activities are things I’ve been doing off and on for many years, because I enjoy them, but lately it’s been with a whole new level of determination, joy, and productivity. All the homeschooling, sewing, baking, cooking, cleaning, growing gardens, pickling things, art projects, writing projects, house projects, and folding laundry the KonMari way are all deeply inspiring to me. They make my life more beautiful or fun, or help me develop skills. I love to be inspired and creatively productive, and I love to inspire others, especially my kids. I enjoy it immensely.
And now here I am, on June 18, 2020, nearly three months after my surgery. I’m feeling incredibly healthy and just bursting with creative energy. It’s the last week of school and I’m itching to get to work full-time on my many projects. I suspect this situation will not last forever, so I am recording it to help my future self get back on track someday. I want to remember this time, unique in my life so far, when focusing on the daily tasks of life that support mental and physical health and creativity has ended up giving me more creative energy than I’ve ever had. I also want to mention that my husband has been an incredible support to me. First, while recovering from surgery, he took on all of my duties during a very stressful, busy time for his job as a professor. As I began to recover and seek out solitude and overflow with creative projects, he endured my retreating into myself and also encouraged me in my endeavors. He’s my best sounding board for ideas, and no one helps me understand difficult concepts better. He’s a gifted, deep thinker who helps me sort my thoughts and be better able to express myself. Along with solitude, I also am deeply enriched by connecting with him. Although he did not write this essay, in many ways I am able to write it because he has helped me figure out what I need to say.