It’s no secret that the political climate in our country lately has been…less than comfortable. It’s easy to feel totally trapped and caught in this bubble, and perhaps overwhelmed by the prospects of what’s to come. While traveling, I learned that so much of the world looks to America to foreshadow their own political movements, and the recent election is certainly no exception. Much of the world thinks that we’ve totally lost it, or that the most powerful nation is quickly becoming a joke. For those of us who do not agree with the political decisions and leaders that are being implemented, the question persists: what can we do? And how can we do it? For artists, there exists another personal struggle: how can I keep creating under these circumstances? And yet, at the same time, we know now we simply must continue to create more than ever.
A feeling of helplessness in relation to art is by no means only a political reaction. Personal, varying levels of depression can inspire such a feeling- an inability to find meaning in one’s work, and therefore an inability to produce the work. Now, the brilliant and missed Carrie Fisher famously said, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” For me, this quote manages to exist in a space that can be both totally inspiring and equally disheartening. Because what about those days, those moments or weeks when you just can’t? When the thought of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, as it were) feels just about as draining as Jean Valjean’s chain gang sentence?
A mantra that I’ve found myself going back to over and over is “be gentle with yourself.” A friend actually ordered that on one of my necklaces and it’s stuck, turning up in all sorts of situations for me lately. Artistically, it’s felt especially important to not beat myself up for being unproductive during emotional slumps. If it just feels too hard to create on a given day, that’s okay. Instead I’ve been trying certain self-care rituals: listening to Gem Club while taking a relaxing bath, for example. Going for a walk with no particular destination in mind. Painting or doodling is also immensely helpful in fueling the need for creativity without the pressure to produce a product. (Trust me, none of my paintings are worth a hoot, but I like doing them and that’s enough).
Once you break the block that’s keeping you from creating at all, Ms. Fisher is totally right. Use what’s going on with you, or with the world, or all of it combined, and channel it into your art. Write a satire or a stream of conscious response; even if it’s not your usual medium and you don’t plan on using it for anything, your artistic brain will thank you. In fact, the rawer and realer that it is without the filter of commercial interest, the better. Let it all out, be as scathing or morbid as you like. Then, take a few steps back, clear your mind for awhile, and come back and read what you’ve made. Chances are there is a nugget or two (or seven) of absolute gold that you can now snatch up and mold into the work you’re used to. Whether it’s a short story, a poem, or an insert to your current novel, themes or characters that you and your world need right now will become clear to you.
Along with these starting tips, I highly recommend finding a group or outlet to share your “scariest,” most truthful work. Whether it’s with just a few friends or a large group of strangers, it is so helpful to know that many other artists are dealing with the same things you are. You can spark conversations and inspirations within each other, and keep creating because after all, it is the best weapon you have.
Your Wednesday Weekly Writing Prompt is: “Pay attention.”
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Tallie Gabriel is an actor, writer, and BookHive social media maven. She’s a member of InViolet Theatre and Artistic Assistant of BEDLAM Theatre in NYC.