We’re all at home, living in some runaway sci-fi episode that we can’t quite get our minds wrapped around. The word surreal is often used in conversation now, even as we converse with ourselves.
Surrealism [ suh-ree-uh-liz-uh m ] Noun (sometimes initial capital letter). A style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions, etc. Dictionary.com
Time stops. Our orientation shifts. What day is it? Time? If I go outside will the world be different than inside? Is this the Twilight Zone? I feel the warm breath of the long-dead Rod Serling, wafting gently at the back of my neck. The hair rises. A dog barks. It’s my dog. She wants to go outside. Is there an outside? And on we go. It’s spooky and eerie and yet all is well in our world if we are not personally afflicted with Covid-19. It’s just flipped on its head or side or some other unknown direction.
For creative people, a global re-experiencing of life can light a fire that breaks up conventional and patterned thinking. But many creatives are stalled. There is no marketplace for their work. Grant dollars may have shifted from individual artist support to serve the greater arts community. Freelance writers may have lost clients and deadlines are dissolved. Many are stuck at home with family and have lost isolation space and time for their work. The news is addicting. Who is dead, dying, how many near me?
The day-to-day jobs that support many artists rob them of creative time but provide necessary resources to keep them going and stocked with supplies. Now time is all there is, and an artist may flounder. I can do anything I want with all this time, but I can’t focus, I can’t find my ground.
I Can't Focus
That’s the heart of it, isn’t it? Focus. I’ve struggled with this as well. I wrestled this beast into submission only for it to sneak up on me again before I even realized that I’d been staring off into space for a while. How on earth – on this earth that offers a rich environment for the new virus to spread and kill – do we find and focus on something new from inside of us to create and spread something life-affirming? I believe that is our challenge and task.
Why are Distractions so Powerful?
It’s important to remember that humans, with their self-reflecting capacity, try to make sense out of the world they live in. How many times have you been told there is a purpose to everything? When we can’t make sense of something, we’re told to have faith in a greater purpose than we can understand. We persist in lining up our ducks in a row, seeing faces in rock formations, piecing together disparate bits of information to form a hypothesis or conspiracy theory. We really can’t help it. It’s our organism’s second most powerful directive after maintaining health.
Making sense of things is more about an individual’s survival than it is about arriving at great truths. If it feels good, it must be right.
When distractions enter our organized world, a lot of energy has to go into corralling the invaders and lining them up with the other ducks, to keep things humming along. You stub your toe because you forgot to wear shoes, you curse up a storm, and resolve to never do that again. And then you bite your tongue. There is no end to distractions from whatever it was you thought you might be doing. Those distractions and your response to them can ruin an otherwise fine day.
Under the overwhelming disruptions we are experiencing as Covid-19 sweeps through our communities, we are done in. We were already swamped with the massive social, political, and environmental changes that have challenged our traditional ways of thinking and expressing. We long to get back to the regular programming, the good old days when…but our memories are wrong. There have been challenges all along.
In this moment, however, absolutely everything is thrown into chaos. How do we make sense of this?
Social Distancing Morphs into Distraction Distancing
You’re already staying away from as many other people as you can. But how can you distance yourself from distractions?
Set a timer for a half-hour. Go into a quiet space – maybe this requires asking everyone in the household to take a break for silence. At first, close your eyes and imagine the world you live in now. Let your mind take you wherever it will unless it’s a dark place, then redirect your thoughts to someplace brighter. When you begin to lose focus, stop, open your eyes, and write or paint or sculpt or whatever you do as a creative, the places your mind led you. By doing this, you give yourself a break from the distractions that serve to trouble and unsettle you.
Practice Distraction Distancing
If nothing else, these small breaks will give your mind much-needed relief. You will figure this out. You will create again. You will survive. Most of us will survive. And I’m here to help you take those breaks if you just can’t do it on your own. I can’t teach you how to write or paint or creatively express, but I can coach you through 30 minutes at a time.
We are all in this change together. My thoughts are with my fellow beings who are ill and suffering. I’m here to help my fellow creatives keep going.