Why Do We Create Art In Difficult Times?

I shared in last week’s blog post that after several years of writer’s block, I’ve suddenly experienced a flood of creativity, which I am channeling into the production of a novel. My writer’s block started at a time when my life was stable and satisfying. I first noticed an inability to write in seminary, when I was thriving socially, professionally and intellectually. In hindsight, it seems that writing should have been easier than ever at that time; my mind was clear, my schedule had ample time available for writing, and I wasn’t having trouble finding ideas for articles. In fact, ideas were everywhere; it was the writing about those ideas that I couldn’t seem to accomplish.

Things are no longer as stable or easy for me as they once were. I’m working through a period of profound grief after losing my mother two years ago. Her death happened while I was working as a pastor – a vocation that I unfortunately found very isolating. I left the pastorate to try and establish a stable secular career, but have had some trouble finding my footing. I’m applying to Ph.D. programs, which could mean further upheaval within the next 10 months or so. And as if things weren’t already complicated enough, I feel overwhelmed by the state of our country’s affairs: the political climate, racism and race relations, and the overall sense of sadness and fear that have beset most of the nation over the past year.

Despite my personal and emotional chaos, I’ve noticed somewhere off in the periphery, a flicker of Inspiration inviting me to touch its center and share it with others. The light is gorgeous and hopeful, but its timing is extraordinarily terrible. Writing takes energy and focus, which are two things that are in short supply in my life lately. Every logical synapse in my brain is signaling that I’m too busy, too mentally and emotionally scattered and too raw to start creating again. Despite that, Inspiration has shown up unannounced, like an an old friend passing through with her duffle bag in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. I’m thrilled to see her but I’d be lying if I told you that I don’t want to ask: Where were you when my life was easy? Why are you here now, and what do you want?

My desire to reconcile what it means to create in the midst of sadness and chaos prompted my heart to gently inquire of the Universe today: “Why does Inspiration visit when things are at their worst?” After a few minutes of meditating on the question, I remembered the story of Creation in Genesis which says that God created the world and all of its inhabitants while surrounded by chaos. Among those creations were two humans, fashioned in the Creator’s likeness. We are just like God, in that we have the ability to create amazing things despite our circumstances. Perhaps the writers of Genesis meant to convey some firsthand knowledge of how beautiful things are often crafted under ugly circumstances.

I also remembered that humans are creatures driven by ego. Our egotistical view of the world seems to extend to the creative process. We believe we can take up our wands and create whenever we want, but my experience with writer’s block has led me to understand that Inspiration doesn’t work that way. It’s not enough for us to choose Inspiration; she must choose us as well. I don’t fully understand the way in which the human soul and Inspiration work in tandem, but I am convinced that it cannot occur without some degree of mutuality.

I don’t know how long Inspiration will stay with me this time around, so I’m not going to waste our precious minutes, hours and days wondering why she’s here. I’m more interested in enjoying her company while I can. Perhaps we’ll crack open her bottle of wine, reminisce on old times and create something beautiful together.

One Comment

  1. javsimson says:

    For many years, I have written the most when my heart and mind were in turmoil. It was a way to organize my thoughts, to sort out what was important and real–as opposed to desire and fantasy. Now that I’m older, I write much less. But I still have all those journals from the past, and I’m mining them (and memory) for nuggets of wisdom I can share with others.

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