Pandemic Diary: Creating when empty looks like this

i

One of my people—it’s good to have your people, isn’t it?—texts me much too early on a Monday morning with a marketing idea for my novels. I feel the love and enthusiasm in the suggestion and am only mildly irritated at how the concept shows a lack of understanding of both my industry and my target audience. I don’t say this to him, but my response to his (so very) enthusiastic barrage of texts betrays my lack of buy-in.

“You keep on telling me you’ve got to find new, not typical of the industry ways to do this stuff,” he points out. “So think about it. Is there a way to use this medium, this tool that nobody else in your field is using to work for you?”

He has a point—in fact, he’s quoting me to myself, don’t you hate it when people do that? I poke into my resistance a little more and arrive at this: he’s asking me to do more work, take more risks, stretch myself more, again—and OMG, it’s taking so much effort just to get out of bed and do the minimum these days, I really can’t…

I know there are people out there right now who can, who do, who are—and all the power to them. They’re gonna win and come out of this rich. Me, I hope, on the other side of this global disaster, I come out with my relationships to my children and my handful of key people more or less intact. And a manageable load of debt.

Some stories to tell.

That’s all.

ii

Another day, another COVID-19 alert from Flora’s school. If you’ve got kids, this has also been your life in 2020/21:

Dear Parent or Guardian,

We have been notified by Alberta Heath Services (AHS) that a case of COVID-19 has been diagnosed in an individual from [our school].

Our school remains open to in-person learning for all students…

Yawn, I’m innured: that week, there are so many messages—five, six?—that I don’t even bother to open any of them until the quarantine notice from AHS—“As a close contact, your child is required to immediately quarantine for 14 days…”—appears in my in-box. And, fuq me, here we go, for the third time since October, Flora’s sidelined from school for two weeks. It wouldn’t matter so much, I guess, except a) mental health and b) Math 20 is a monster and the online support for quarantined kids is not great. I don’t, I can’t blame the teachers—they’re still expected to teach live classes for the non-quarantined kids, and the schools got no financial support from the provincial government for this year of stops and starts, interruptions, and unprecedented stresses.

Sorry. I’m as tired of complaining about this as you are of hearing me complain. Whatever. Another prophylactic quarantine—we’re all healthy. We test Flora right away—also, Cinder, because, well, long story—in a municipal warehouse converted into a massive drive-through testing facility. There’s an apocalyptic feel to the setting—all the staff in full safety gear, masks, goggles, and hazmat suits, burly, also masked, security guards directing traffic, but also ensuring nobody gets out of line, or out of their car?

We get the test results—negative!—in less than 24 hours. But Flora still has to stay in quarantine. The rest of us are a little confused—we’re free to roam, but she’s not?—but that’s par for the course.

I’ve been confused and mystified for a year now.

iii

My upstairs neighbours are also quarantined. They’re feeling fine and symptom-free: just trapped. We’re a good building, so grocery deliveries and what not are arranged, and, also, nobody freaks out. This will make a good story when things get back to normal.

I often think, somewhat self-righteously, that in my building—just as in the Coop before it—we live the way people are supposed to live.

As a community.

The pandemic is shrinking our communities and making it harder and harder to maintain them. That, I think, is its true evil, its worst cost.

iv

I’m supposed to be a guest on a podcast about creativity—“What makes people creative?” is its theme, the central question the host likes to explore. The host is one of those amazing people who are starting new things, creating with abandon during this time.

I feel like an impostor and I’m not sure why he wants me on the show.

Him: In the past twelve months, you’ve released three novellas, been in two best-selling anthologies, written two new novels, are in the middle of a third—there was that poetry project over Advent—and, always, your blogs. Never mind the ghosting. Woman. If you have impostor syndrome, what about the rest of us?

True fact: until he enumerates what I’ve done… I feel I’ve done nothing. And I think it’s because the work isn’t flowing. I’m pulling quarter-full buckets out of the well with my teeth, often crying while I’m doing it, and that’s on the good days. There is no flow, there is no joy—there are gritted teeth and a determination to do the work—except on the days when there is no determination to do the work and I just want to sleep.

This used to be fun.

I used to be fun.

Remember?

v

The coffee I’m drinking this morning has a beautiful name: Nicaraguan Black Honey. I’m not sure I like it—it’s not bad but it’s different. Its flavours are subtle, nuanced—its taste changes in my mouth as I sip and swallow, reflect. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what’s happening in my mouth.

Instead, I think… am I drinking too much coffee?

Am I drinking too much, period?

(The more I drink, the more candle holders I have and the more hedonistic my baths become—the thought makes me laugh.)

I pour myself another cup of coffee. Creativity sings in the cup. Creating, after all, is not mythical or mystical, despite the attempts of the pretentious to make it so. Creativity is, simply, making. Making a cup of coffee—boiling water, grinding the beans, bringing them together, pouring the result into a vessel of china, clay or glass (which is in itself a creation, a gift from its maker to you, the drinker). Up the supply chain—planting, harvesting, roasting the beans. Making soup out of whatever’s in the fridge. Making a meal out of saltine crackers, black market caviar and tins of sardines that fell off a truck somewhere on the way to the empty-shelved grocery store. Building a chair—a house. Turning a small pre-fab apartment into a cozy, unique home.  Taking an empty bottle of Glenlivet and repurposing it as a candle holder. Knitting a scarf. Giving an old car new life. Rewiring a lamp…

Creativity is small and humble and quotidian—woven into every breath of life. That’s where it’s seeded, born, nurtured.

This morning, my well feels very empty but I have a deadline. I have to write, produce, create a lot. So I start small. Morning pages. Then, coffee. Next, a slowly, carefully prepared breakfast. A short, not-for-money, not-for-sale sketch of what creating during the pandemic feels like. And… ok. The well still feels empty, but I have enough in me to lower the bucket. I’ll pull something up. That’s the way it works.

Him: Can we talk about my marketing idea now?

Jane: Your make work project for me? No. Circle back to me in 2022.

For now: baby steps. A cup of coffee. A simple soup.

A carefully crafted gift of words or food for the people I love.

That’s how creativity works when you don’t think it’s happening.

xoxo

“Jane”

3 thoughts on “Pandemic Diary: Creating when empty looks like this

  1. Pingback: Pandemic Diary, the Collection from Nothing By the Book | Nothing By The Book

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