Yesterday, I hit my quarantine threshold. I've been doing everything that a good quarantiner should--creating routine and sticking to it, making time to move, connecting with my people. Even so, the indefinitude and my lack of control caught up with me. As if on cue, the pervasive rain of the day broke and the sky cleared. I frantically threw on my shoes, a flannel, and my mask, and escaped to the park.
I walked the four avenue blocks, desperately wanting to take off my mask so I could breathe in air that wasn't my own. I snuck a gulp of the cool, fresh breeze, grateful it lacked the smell of urine that is quintessential New York.
I entered the park at my usual spot, just north of the Met, and was immediately greeted by a whiff of spring. The trees, missing the memo that the city was on lockdown, bloomed. Their defiance was so strong, I smelled it through my mask. In that moment, all of my frenetic, swirling thoughts stilled and I remembered that buds and leaves operate on their own schedule.
Spring happened without anyone telling it to. The empty branches were filled in their own time regardless of what was happening just a few blocks away.
Four weeks ago, I, and many of my fellow singles, found myself facing a new reality-living alone without a sense of when I’d be able to regularly resume meeting with other humans in three dimensions. When was the next time I would receive something as simple as a hug from a friend? Where the parents I knew still had overfilled lives, mine was empty. And I was faced with the reality that I was responsible for filling it.
Like the textbook performer and achiever I am, work was the obvious solution. Not just because I needed the distraction, but because problem solving is caffeine to my brain. All of a sudden, we were all faced with a new set of obstacles and unnavigated areas of stuckness.
Staring down the barrel of a nationwide shut down that has meant unemployment, anxiety, and a paradigm shift for so many, not to mention the actual life and death risk placed onto essential workers, the stakes felt too high to play it safe creatively. I wrote and I started an IGTV series and I strategized. But I also assessed what I already had in the works and stayed the course in those. In considering how to add value, I thought about both creative pivots and consistency.
But most of all, I filled my time with purposeful work because it’s what I needed to keep the emptiness from overtaking me. I knew myself well enough to recognize how much my mental health depended on creating as much structure as possible, and also leaning into the creative problem solving part of my brain.
Many of my creative friends, married and single, did not receive the upheaval the same way. They gave themselves time and space to grieve. Deep feelers that they are, they needed to first acknowledge and honor those feelings.
Creative community has a way of bringing together the thinkers, the feelers, and the doers. As one of those groups continued to meet virtually, I noticed the pervasiveness of a word.
And as someone who was driven to create in this time of crisis, my questions were Should I not be writing publicly right now? Should I stop? But for many of my friends, it was Should I be writing right now? Should I be doing more?
Whatever our situation, we were looking at each other and wondering if their way of coping and adjusting meant that mine was wrong.
Under the best of circumstances, the struggle to stay in our own lane is challenging. When our nerves are on edge and everything feels extra insecure? Dial that up to eleven.
As creatives, our job is to communicate and express, to entertain and evoke, to encourage and challenge. And the beauty is that we each have our own way of doing that.
Those of us who are action-oriented thrive when there are problems for which we can offer solutions. Those of us who are more deliberative thrive when they give themselves margin to absorb and notice and think. Those of us who are feelers ground us and refuse to gloss over what is hard in favor of what is ideal. Each has their strengths and pitfalls, and each has their own way of using their orientation to create beautiful and useful work.
As we enter week five of quarantine, mayhaps some of the adrenaline is wearing off. Mayhaps you’ve picked up a few tools and learned what you need (and even what your audience needs). Given the nature of pandemics, normalcy can shift in a moment. But as the newness wears off you might be left with the guilt and pressure of should. What if we were free to consider a different option altogether?
Maybe now isn’t the time to produce, but to plant.
All of what I have produced in the last four weeks was already in the works, or was wisdom I cultivated through nearly three decades of tumultuous life experience and two decades of living with anxiety. The fruit you are seeing didn’t just happen, it was the result of seeds that were planted months and years ago, and countless small steps and moments of healing. And it came to fruition in its own time.
Just because I’m producing blogs and posts and a new website doesn’t mean you’re behind or missing out. Consider the words of Psalm 126: 5-6, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Maybe right now is the time for journaling and keeping up with your day job (or looking for a new day job). Mayhaps getting creative and casting vision is what your soul needs right now. We are all speculators at this point, exploring what is possible based on the variables available to us. Part of the beauty of being part of a body (ie the body of Christ aka the church, or being part of a creative community, or a friend group etc.) is that we all get to learn from each other.
We need the doers and the thinkers and the feelers. We need the “right now” and the “not yet.” We need the pushing forward and the pulling back. We need the reaping and the sowing.
As for me? I’m both reaping in joy and sowing in tears right now. It’s part of the job, balancing present and long term. I recently received the advice to be the most MaryB. I can be, and MaryB. is a relentless doer, but also an eager learner. Because of the seeds that were planted, I get to steward those gifts in an outward facing way, while also being mindful of the ultimate vision God has given me for this creative work that has not bloomed yet.
Our work is to plant the seed, to nurture it, but it is not in our power to make it grow at a specific time. Today, if you find yourself caught up in a web of should, consider where you are and remember that God is present in this moment. Whether we are creating publicly or God is germinating something within us that hasn't reached its time, should will only distract us from the good work that's happening now.