These are uncertain times. When I spoke of hope as embracing uncertainty, I did not imagine the collective test we were all about to face. And yet, it is the creativity of community that is giving me hope in this moment.
Community has always been very important to me (my only tattoo is in honor of my lifelong devotion to community). So when I found out I might have to self-quarantine to quell the spread of the Coronavirus, I panicked. My mental health is heavily impacted by connection with others, which makes isolation truly terrifying. During a normal week, I actively work to fill my days with either social activities or outings that boost my energy and remind me of my interconnection with the world. If I don’t do this, I usually fall into a depressive mode with little motivation to do anything. Sometimes my mental health management can feel like an addiction: When I look at my calendar and see an empty week, the dread builds to alarm until I find myself texting all my friends to see who can squeeze me in; If a friend cancels, especially after I’ve been alone for a while, I suddenly find myself lurching to fill the void, often spending too much money on going out in an attempt to remind myself I matter. It is truly not a stable existence. And I know this. I have been working on it for years through meditation and therapy. And yet, I also know to be thankful for my creative resilience. When I self-soothe through connection to a TV character or work in a cafe to be surrounded by people or come back from a night of taking myself to dinner and movie, I do feel better, even satiated. I have learned how to creatively respond to my needs, and while I wish I was less reliant on these tactics, I am resilient. And so are we.
Over the last week, I have seen community show up in so many creative ways. Each email from an organization making the hard choice to temporarily shut down reminds me of how our individual creative actions affect the collective. As the New York Times pointed out: “School superintendents, sports commissioners, college presidents, governors and business owners have taken it upon themselves to shut down much of American life without clear guidance from the president.” (1) Local communities all across the U.S. are modeling creative leadership for each individual. Last night my group of friends held a virtual game night to celebrate a cancelled birthday party and we rejoiced in our connection. My fellow teachers and students have rallied together as we transition to online instruction intent on continuing to prioritize high-quality education. I have even heard of video dance parties connecting strangers while in separation. So even though I am currently alone in my room, I feel a stronger sense of community. It reminds me of a silent meditation retreat, when there is a heightened understanding of your impact on others; just one person breaking the noble silence hurts the whole community. And so we may be more physically disconnected, but we are consciously choosing to protect the collective and we are creatively choosing to keep community.
I find that collective responsibility is one of the hardest but most important concepts to teach my students. I also know that intrinsic motivation is key to creativity, so I begin every course with students co-creating community agreements for how they will support their learning environment. Every class starts with picking an agreement for the day that reminds us we have to intentionally show up for our community.
And so I thought I’d offer some of their agreements as guidance for sustaining creative resilience:
- Be a light to inspire others
- Encourage growth through seeing everyone’s potential
- Take care of myself so my creativity can flourish
- Reassure others/myself that our creativity is valid
- Remember that learning is a process that takes time and adaption
- Foster a community of belonging through support, respect, and teamwork
- Empower myself and others by celebrating achievements and having pride in ourselves
- Develop my individual creative identity through collaboration
- Be my genuine self by speaking my truth and sharing my knowledge
- Adopt a playful attitude towards life (let it surprise you!)
Each of these agreements came directly from asking students what community means to them. Every day we choose how we impact others. You can “Be a light to inspire others” or a propagator of pessimism. Or if that is too much for you to carry, perhaps you need to “Take care of [yourself] so [your] creativity can flourish.” Self-care is an act of collective responsibility. Each of us has a part to play, as demonstrated in “Develop my individual creative identity through collaboration’ or “Be my genuine self by speaking my truth and sharing my knowledge.” We are all integral to this community; each act of public distancing creates “a community of belonging through support, respect, and teamwork.” We are adapting together and we learn best from each other. So make sure to celebrate each step and see your creative resilience as valid. I know how easy it is to be overcome with panic and hopelessness, which is why my community agreement is to “Adopt a playful attitude towards life (let it surprise you!).” Instead of facing the day with dread or anxiety, I am focusing my attention on the unexpected. Rather than anticipate these next few weeks or months as a grueling test on my mental health; I can count all the ways creative resilience surprises me.
With intention, we will get through this; I believe in our creative potential.
Living is a creative act,
Everyday Creativity Tip
Here is just a short list of resources that further demonstrates how communities creatively come together in crisis:
- COVID-19 Mutual Aid & Advocacy Resources
- Bay Area COVID-19 Resource List
- Example of a Community Mutual Aid Intake Form
- COVID-19 Preparation for People Living with Chronic Illnesses in the United States
- How to Vote By Mail During Coronavirus Outbreak
- COVID-19 Freelance Artist Resources
- COVID-19 California Arts Field Survey
- How to Support Asylum Seekers in the East Bay
- Online Education Compiled Resources
- List of Shows to Binge
- List of Creative Activities to Do Alone
- Free Live-Stream Meditation Online
- The Response Podcast on Disaster Collectivism and Community Resilience
And I know there are many more! Stay safe. Stay connected. Stay creative.
1. Peter Baker & Maggie Harberman, “The President as Bystander: Trump Struggles to Unify a Nation on Edge”, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/us/politics/trumps-coronavirus-unity.html
Originally published March 15, 2020 on the Creativity in Context Newsletter by Evelyn Thorne.
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