By Brenna Sarantides
The day that UConn closed campus and moved to online classes, I told myself I would have a lot to show for all my free time. I’d read a few books a week. I’d finally start writing the novel I’ve been story-boarding. I’d finish a large canvas painting as a housewarming gift for my sister.
A month later, I had not started a single one of those projects. Not a single book, written line, or paintbrush had been touched. I hit a massive creative block in the time I knew I needed it the most. That’s when I came to the sharp realization that I have been approaching it all wrong. I will not be Shakespeare writing King Lear during the plague lockdown. Or Frida Kahlo painting her first self-portrait on bedrest. We need to stop basing our worth on how productive we are during this time.
Instead we should turn to creating for creation’s sake. Focus on the process rather than the product. Once I released the need to commodify my creativity, it came back to me. Art still prevails in quarantine, most importantly, in our small acts every day.
We can all find comfort in these tiny creative tasks. Even those who claim to have no artistry are finding their peace in art. A friend, who constantly reminds us she only got one A in art class, began making exquisite watercolor paintings. Another friend, famously tone deaf during karaoke, sent a silly song to our group chat that we all treasure. My friends have found their art in this unsettling time, and it reminded me of mine.
I’m learning to lean into smaller acts of artistry. My creative process looks different than I’m used to. I’m writing poetry in my text messages to friends I haven’t seen in weeks. While far less refined than my traditional inklings, they capture more yearning than I ever have before. I’m turning to music in the simple act of creating playlists. My quarantine compilation captures the particular mixture of dread and hope that I cannot express myself. I’m drawing sketches on my whiteboard to change each day. It’s a picture that is destined to be erased. These methods may be unconventional but I still feel connected to this art.
When this is all over I hope we can remember what we turned to. Nurses, healthcare workers, scientists and essential workers have done an incredible job of keeping us alive, and we are all eternally grateful for that. Artists have helped us find peace in our lives that they are saving. We have turned to movies, music, books, and podcasts in our time of need. Let us not forget, when we go back to whatever semblance of ‘normal’ we have, that artists helped save the world in a different way.
For those of you who may have struggled in conquering their big creative projects, let that go. You do not need to write a best-seller, paint a collection, or create an album. Turn to art in small ways. I’ve been endlessly inspired by humans’ capacity to create when no one is watching. Write bad poetry. Sing in the shower. Doodle in the margins of your papers. It will heal our hearts.
Brenna Sarantides is the Long River Review marketing director and a poetry panel reader. She can be reached at email@example.com.