Originally appeared in Shelf Magazine
We’re living through tough times—mentally and spiritually.
With nations in crisis and an invisible threat stalking those we love, it can be difficult to get out of bed and face the day. Of course, this is doubly daunting for frontline health care workers, essential retailers, and public servants. However, dangerous employment might be preferable to financial limbo and ruin.
If you sit and soak yourself in all of the world’s problems, it’s easy to become pickled by doubt, fear, and dread. For most, these forces inhibit creativity and inspiration. While there are certainly artists who mold their creations from the clay of exquisite torments, we cannot—and should not—all be Van Gogh. So how do we separate ourselves from this anxiety and dread and rediscover our joy and our desire to create?
I start from a small place, a small joy, and I allow that sense of wholeness to expand outward into greater measures of happiness and gratitude. For example, I engage in a few helpful rituals. I spend at least thirty minutes (sometimes a whole hour) bonding with my incredible Maine Coon kitten. He loves to play fetch (there are videos on Instagram!) and loves attention, baths, and tummy rubs. Hunkering down with a good book is another favorite ritual. Reading relaxes me and provides a necessary escape from the gruelling news cycle, which can show so much death, despair, and negativity. In books, we can see societies and their issues abstractly, and return from our escapes with insights and a dash of hope. I also engage in daily exercise. Through tried-and-tested tradition, I’ve found that exercise gives me the mental and physical fortitude to face anything—from my mother’s death to an assault, to the stress of this global pandemic. I make positive choices regarding food and my expenditures of time (do I watch Netflix or do I work on my article for Shelf?), even when comforting or unproductive choices (Netflix), ones that undermine my values and virtue, are easier to make in a time of crisis. We grow stronger by challenging ourselves. This is true of the science of muscle growth, and of spiritual growth.
The examples above hardly describe a perfect formula. They are merely the routines and structures that work for me. You need to find the routines and structures that work for you, that keep you grounded with at least a passing sense of inner peace. Only then, and when not worrying about money, sickness, or death, are most of us able to tap into our creative well. I don’t mean to say that negative experiences are never a source of inspiration. Indeed, I never would have written Feast of Fates without my mother’s death. Before that terrible event, I didn’t have the depth or understanding of loss required to write something so epic.
But still, I wrote the final drafts of Fates (not the harried version my mother read) from a place of equilibrium. Even though I was broken and sad, I still had my routines. I still had hope and a safe haven for my body and thoughts. And that’s what we should all do, during this storm or future storms: we need to build our shelters, our places of security and love. So no matter how dark the night, or how wrathful the storm, we can endure and dream and continue to create.
All my love,