Dear COVID-19, please stop C-blocking me. (Not that kind of C-block, but now that I think of it, COVID-19 is guilty of that too).
For many of us, time is suddenly not our most limited resource.
Instead of waking up to an endless list of to-dos, we wake up to a blank slate. A true tabula rasa, a slate wiped clean on a global scale. No classes to study for, no meetings to rush to, no deadlines to meet.
And in keeping with a trying, positive spirit, we look towards all the wonderful things we could do. Maybe I could learn piano, I’ve thought to myself more times than I care to admit. In all fairness to myself, I have sat down at the piano bench and learned how to read the bass clef. But for a while, I couldn’t approach the piano, or any of my creative projects, with the chutzpa any exciting project would merit.
Realizing that I couldn’t be creative on my own terms—that I couldn’t be suddenly inspired or divinely guided upon command—was a hard pill to swallow. Great, I thought, if I can’t be creative when I have 3 or more months of free time to do it, when will I be creative? When will this onslaught of creative energy pour through me? When I’m caring for an infant, during a difficult divorce (I’m an optimist in practice, but a pessimist by nature), or while I’m juggling a full-time job alongside a plate full of adult responsibilities?
Barring the inherent elusiveness of creativity which Elizabeth Gilbert beautifully explains in Big Magic, creativity has certain psychic prerequisites (I use the term “psychic” in the traditional sense, the way Freud and Jung would use it, to describe anything pertaining to our mysterious frenemy, the mind).
Naturally, I started wondering why I couldn’t be creative. Or rather, why I was struggling to be creative.
And then I remembered what I had learned in positive psychology with Dr. Dick Day.
Lo and behold, the answer lies within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes the stages of development through which a human being can progress. First, the base levels of the pyramid, or hierarchy, have to be satisfied in order for an individual to rise through the levels.
At the base of the pyramid, there are our basic needs: air, water, food, rest, shelter, health.
At the very top of the pyramid lies the greater human drive towards self-expression, creativity, and what Maslow referred to as self-actualization.
In terms of survival, creativity is a purely extraneous endeavour, ancillary to the acquisition of food or shelter—and following suit, creativity falls to the wayside whenever our health is threatened.
Whether or not we are consciously aware of it, our mind and bodies are constantly scanning our environment for inklings of threats, whether they be to our physical or psychological survival. And so, at a time when there is a legitimate pandemic sweeping the globe, painting your pottery is not exactly at the forefront of your mind, even if you’d like it to be.
It is very hard to persuade your subconscious mind that everything is A-okay when you are inundated with information to the contrary. Even if you wash your hands religiously and convince yourself you’re taking all necessary precautions, COVID-19, or a threat by any other name, would be as much as a C-block.
So what’s the takeaway? Are we doomed to whither away in the grips of the Coronavirus, in this uncharted territory, as we frolic on this massive no man’s land? Without so much as a PORTRAIT or BOOK to show for it?
Not necessarily. It just means we can better understand the role of creativity during a crisis. We can better understand ourselves, and cut ourselves some slack for staring at a blank wall instead of painting it.