Creating During Chaos


Picture: Khoa Vo

Today, we watched as domestic terrorists breached the U.S. Capitol. And as the day winds down, many of us are still wondering how people could be motivated to foment insurrection in the guise of patriotism. And there are questions: what does this mean for the future of our country? What does this mean for our idea of democracy? And so on. But I don't want to think about all those questions right now. I want to think about our lives and our well-being.


Living through 2020 wasn't easy. We experienced the start of a pandemic and many experienced joblessness and other struggles. We also experienced upheaval as people reacted to the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, at the hands of public servants. And now, we witness more upheaval as people contest the election results. It can be a lot to process and a lot to handle, along with perhaps other stressors.


For people who create for a living or even create for fun, how do we manage to express ourselves during stressful times? I wondered this because there are times when I am so stressed that I can't even think about writing down a thought or picking up a paintbrush. How can we find motivation to create? And also, how can our mode of creation actually help us manage our stress?


I found a New York Times article from 2018 by Terry Sullivan, where she discussed a traumatic event that happened to her. It's a great article- please be aware, though, that Sullivan describes a very traumatic, violent event so it may be a trigger to some. (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/07/well/how-i-used-art-to-get-through-trauma.html )


Sullivan ended up using drawing and painting as a means of healing. She interviewed a professor of psychiatry and neuroscientist, Dr. Ursano, and asked whether painting could be psychologically helpful. Dr. Ursano, she said, told her that "art, in the form of drawing or in the form of words, can be a very important component of recovery from traumatic stress." One of the pieces of advice that Dr. Ursano gave her was to choose a mode of expression that was comfortable. So painters can paint, writers can write, dancers can dance, etc. Another valuable bit of advice was not to critique oneself.


As we continue to process everything that happened, perhaps we can take time to express ourselves as much as we are able, in our work...whether it's a few lines of poetry, a few swipes of the paintbrush, or a monologue. Regardless of whether you feel able to or not, please stay safe and stay well.

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