How do you create when the world is on fire?
Just like you’ve always done. Because it’s always on fire.
This has been a week of emotional flashbacks.
Is it 2020? 2016? Are we all back in the dumpster fire again? Is this a new panic? Why does it feel so familiar? And why am I having such a hard time coming up with ideas? Why is my page blank? Why is there an empty bag of potato chips sitting next to me? And why have I suddenly forgotten what I was only just passionate about last week?
Why don’t I feel creative right now?
It’s tempting to answer these questions definitively, pointing fingers at the pathologies (yours or other people’s) that are responsible, or maybe even at a world events that is to blame for your stasis. But there’s no point.
This week, though seemingly unique, is not unique.
That’s right. That’s the message.
This crisis is not the only crisis we’ve been through. This collapse is not the first collapse, and it won’t be the last.
If you are a creative person – and you likely are – then this isn’t the first time you’ve been challenged to remain creative in the midst of a crisis, because crisis has been a constant in the world for as long as you’ve been alive.
How do you create when the world is on fire? Just like you’ve always done. Because it’s always on fire. Always has been. And somehow, you’ve managed to make stuff.
I may turn up my nose on principle at Billy Joel’s generational anthem, We Didn’t Start the Fire (take some responsibility, William), but the line he wrote is true:
It was always burning since the world’s been turning.
I don’t mean to minimize your emotional struggle. What you feel is as real to you as anything.
But the shock you feel at the crises of the current moment? That is what I invite you to set aside. The shock is not helping.
There has never been a day in my life (born in ‘79) when activists haven’t been trying to overturn Roe. There has never been a day in my life when Christians weren’t trying, in the name of God, to legislate other people’s bodies, including mine. Today we’re talking about reproductive rights. Tomorrow we could be talking about the prohibition of certain kinds of sex. The exercise of control and domination behind both political forces is the same.
Crisis has been a constant, and somehow we’ve created. We’ve written songs. Books. Essays. We’ve danced, and had sex (lots, hopefully), and sang. Our species has only ever created in the midst of conflict, and our creations have helped us gain clarity, decipher truth, and make meaning from the seeming meaninglessness.
But we could only do that when we got ourselves unstuck from the shock of encountering the truth of the world.
So don’t stay in the shock. You can’t create in a state of shock.
But you can create when you’re pissed. You can create when you’re upset, or when you’re lamenting, or even when you’re confused. Shock shuts down emotion, and you need to be connected to your heart in order to create.
So, consider for a moment that your imagination isn’t something that lives in your brain, but rather in your heart. Don’t take me literally here. I’m not talking science. I’m saying, imagine that your imagination actually lives in the same place from which you feel.
Connect to your feelings in that place.
And then, expand the space around them. Give them room to breathe, and breathe into them. Let your imagination, formerly restricted by shock, stretch out into a bigger room for your feelings.
Start there and see what happens.
You may not wind up with a page full of words right away, or you may. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you don’t lose a connection to your heart just because you caught a clear glimpse of a world that’s always been on fire.
Your heart matters. It’s the center of your imagination, and your creativity, and… if you’re of a certain persuasion, like me… your faith.
Tend to it.