Permission Notes for a Pandemic

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I’ve wanted to write for weeks, to speak something hopeful and life-giving into the world’s collective anxiety. But the words feel stuck, dried up. They come flickering in the middle of the night or while I wash dishes, only to evaporate in the cold light of my computer screen.

For all of us makers, this is supposedly our time. You see the posts on Facebook and Twitter, doing their best to spin some hope. Finish that manuscript. Learn that instrument. Check in with everybody. The world has slowed, all our classes and meetings and events have been canceled, so there’s no excuse anymore, right? It’s the slowing of life, the removal of barriers to the good stuff, creativity and connection.

There is no inspirational Instagram post telling you to sit on the floor for half an hour to pet your dog and cry.

Some days, this isolated life is a well of beauty and kindness. I do my work, spend time reading, check in with friends and family, and make a beautiful, tasty dinner. And then there are the days when the to-do list stares back, but all I see are the constant news articles, the social media notifications, the monotony of homebound life where time loses meaning.

In this strange, slow new world, where many of us are working from home, deleting canceled events from our calendars, suddenly homeschooling, or finding new stretches of unfilled time, it’s tempting to feel a need to do things. And as I try to find the shape of my life for now, I’ve had to give myself permission to go a little easier on myself. If you need to hear this too, may I extend the same grace to you.

Permission Note #1: It’s okay if you can’t make art right now.

It’s a strange time to be a maker right now. Sure, I’ve already worked from home for a while, so it’s not like there’s a full day job eating up my time. But suddenly, the calendar is empty, errands are compressed and minimized, and staying home is the expected norm for us all. What a great time to write poems, keep up my blog, and pitch to all the places I have on my “People I Want to Write For” list, right?

We see the memes, the encouraging commentary: stay home and finish your novel, paint the canvases, learn the instrument, insert your medium of choice. Worse, some of us may feel pressure to look for more paid work, or finally start that crafty side hustle. I’ve been feeling a low-level struggle for days because I wanted to write this post, but couldn’t get my head around words.

Recently, in The Rabbit Room Chinwag Facebook group, I saw this question raised:

Are any of you finding it nearly impossible to create art right now? I’m not consciously anxious about COVID-19, but my adrenaline level is SO HIGH! I can’t get myself to focus on anything, much less working with my hands.

If this is you, know that it’s okay to not feel creative. It may be frustrating and painful. Maybe you even feel like you have art you could be giving, if it weren’t so much work to get up and keep moving during the day. But it doesn’t mean the work isn’t happening. You don’t know the songs, stories, poems, and paintings that are sparking and swirling in the depths of your being. Give yourself a little room. If you must write, write in secret about the shape of these different days, about unnameable griefs and mundane joys. Maybe these are the days of listening to new music, rereading your favorite books, playing interesting podcasts while you wash the dishes.

Author Kaitlin Curtice had this to say in a recent Twitter thread:

It is OK if you aren’t producing or creating right now… Grief and trauma affect us all in different ways, but they do AFFECT US. Is it hard to create right now? That’s okay. We need YOU, because at some point, it will be time again, and we will be ready.

I don’t know about you, but I call that good news.

Permission Note #2: It’s okay to check in on yourself too.

One day, after a Zoom meeting for work, a long phone call with my family, and preparation for an online gathering of church friends, I remarked to my husband, “I feel like I’ve done way more socializing since we started social distancing.” It was a joke, but like all jokes, there was a kernel of truth hiding inside. Staying connected takes a lot of work right now.

It’s a vital thing to do right now, for our own sanity and for the good of our neighbors. We check in on older friends and relatives to make sure their needs are met. We check in on single friends who are far from home and feeling lonely. We check in on people we know who struggle with anxiety and depression, and on parents who suddenly have all their kids at home and are trying to juggle a new normal schedule.

Be kind to yourself. This is how we heal.

Jen Rose Yokel

But sometimes, especially if you are a helper or empathetic type, the weight of all this checking in can be hard to bear. We live in a unique time where just about everyone we know is struggling against a common fear, even though it takes many forms. It could mean many conversations, all of them weighty with no solid end in sight. It could mean the vague feeling that somehow your own weight isn’t as heavy as others’, the compulsion to keep giving, giving, giving.

That same grief and trauma that saps our creative energy? It can also mess with our capacity to give and care for others. Don’t be afraid to pause and check in with yourself now and then. Where are you feeling heavy or fearful? Those are places worth tending to. It may mean taking a day off from looking in on others to pray about those weights, to cry and talk it through with someone who gives you life, to schedule a remote appointment with a therapist or pastor or spiritual director, and, yes, maybe even create a little something if you can.

I realize carving out that time may be hard for you, especially if you have children to care for or a demanding job. (Especially medical care providers. I see you.) So consider this permission. Consider it a gentle nudge to find a little space where you can, even just a couple minutes in the middle of a household chore, or a moment of stillness right before bed.

Be kind to yourself. This is how we heal.

Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.


6 Comments

  1. Rachel White

    @rachelwhite

    Thank you so much for this! I was starting to feel like I was the only one who was missing out on some kind of world-wide vacation where inspiration and good feelings swirl everywhere. 🙂 If you ask me, COVID-19 has been romanticized far too much on the internet. Not everyone is sitting around at home with too much time on their hands. Personally, my commitments and tasks have spiked SO much due to quarantine that I’ve barely had any time or energy to create anything for myself. It’s comforting to be reminded that I don’t have to become Shakespeare during this pandemic. Any art in us that is meant to come out will come out eventually, quarantine or not. 🙂

  2. Matthew Cyr

    @matthewcyr

    I’ve been feeling this too. Thank you Jen, for sharing encouragement with those of us who feel like we’re failing to be creative during this time when the conditions are supposedly perfect for it.

  3. Bethany Rose

    @wildrosejournal

    This is so encouraging, thank you, Jen!! Sometimes I let the pressure to create paralyze me. It’s much better to be kind to myself, as you said, especially now.

  4. Christine Mast

    Perfectly said! For me there are unexpected joys, but so much grief. The guilt of not doing something big or profitable during this time was starting to take its toll on me. Thank you for the encouraging words.

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