“I create in the cracks of my life, the places that I love both real and imagined. Creating in the garden and in the studio, the things that give my heart moments of quiet peace. I’ve been extremely grateful for those moments.” Gina Louthian, Visual Artist
For most of my adult life I’ve had to juggle time as a professional educator, wife, mother, and writer. Finding the space to write was never easy, but I managed because it was important to me. As I’ve often told students, time is one of the few things that we control. When I retired four years ago time finally became my ally. When the covid pandemic hit in March the time factor should not have been important to me because I’m in charge of the flow of my days now, and the virus didn’t change that, but I’ve been surprised by the way the anxiety surrounding the crisis has eroded my creativity.
It’s been since late July that I’ve written a blog. I soldiered on for a while, through July, but at some point I began to doubt my authority to say anything that mattered in the midst of such a life/death climate. In the early months of the pandemic I had my poetry chapbook final edits to complete; then I had to work on revising my memoir, Are You Gregg’s Mother? While I wasn’t creating new work, I was writing. I was fortunate to have a critique job for another writer in the area this summer, response to his novel in progress. Not going on annual retreat to Nimrod Hall was a creative blow, too, a loss that took a toll. Somehow I managed to write six new poems during this time, though–always a slow process for me–but no new fiction.
I have sorely missed my writing group, both the one nearby and the one that has sustained me out in cyberspace. I was meeting with two writers in Blacksburg once a month but we had to stop around the Christmas holidays and then we were never able to start again when covid hit. For years I have exchanged work with a dear writer friend Laura who lives outside Boston. At first we did that via snail mail, but in recent years we’ve used the internet. We both came to the conclusion of some big projects together a few months back and after covid hit we didn’t schedule any new exchanges.
Other artists have managed to keep making new work even in this jarring climate. My husband John has been a model artist for me to admire and strive to emulate. He goes to his studio on most days no matter what–virus, tense political climate, sickness and in health, he’s married to his creative process. And it shows. He’s made collage after collage since March and has some major assemblages in the works, too.
Aggie Zed and Gina Louthian are two life-long visual artists who haven’t been stopped or stymied by the virus. Both post new work regularly on Instagram, like John, and wrap their lives around making art. I not only admire their art, I admire their commitment to create, no matter what.
I don’t think I’ve had “writer’s block” so much as I’ve had “creativity block”–a barrier to the positive flow of ideas. Fear, anxiety, uncertainty–these are powerful barriers. I can’t minimize their ability to get in the way of “my best self” and the ideas that mental exploration generate. Luckily I’ve been able to read a lot and post my responses to the many novels like Girl, Woman, Other that have kept me thinking about women and self-fulfillment and the search for meaning in life.
Just this week I had a ZOOM meeting with my two writing friends Jane and Mindy in Blacksburg and we’ve decided to exchange work again. They both have projects in the works and I’m excited to read what they’re writing. Laura and I are going to look at the novels-in-progress that we stalled a few months back. We’ll bring fresh eyes, tempered by this challenging period of forced loneliness. My next-door neighbor, visual artist Lucia, is starting new paintings, too, and we’re walking and talking about books and ideas.
The issues that have mattered to me my entire writing life–the internal lives of women and how we strive to become our fullest, honest selves–still matter to me. As I comb my thoughts and experiences and look to the visual and verbal artists I admire I intend to sharpen my creative skills and immerse myself once more in the writing that has mattered to me my entire life. I only have this voice, my own true voice, and time to use it is a gift.