Snarky political memes on Facebook, squirrel obstacle races and the guy on TikTok skating to Fleetwood Mac have all helped me in little ways to get through the pandemic. Other social media content, has of course, infuriated me. And there was one meme that popped up on my feed during the first few months that struck terror in my heart.
It said (something like) “If you haven’t written that screenplay or novel yet, it’s not because you didn’t have enough time. It’s because you were never going to do it.”
Yes, I did think I’d start a novel when I retired and had time. And how much more time can a person have than retiring during a pandemic shut-down? Yet, no novel, though I have some best-selling ideas, believe me. The meme brought up a question that I have always asked myself: If you think you really want something, but you don’t work at making it happen, did you really want it?
That’s been hard for me to answer, as someone who has a long long list of creative and self-improvement projects, some of which I’ve been wanting to do for years and years. I can’t seem to cross “Send all my friends homemade birthday cards every year” and “Make jam flavored with herbs from my garden” and “Maybe I could get back to sewing” off the list, no matter how long they’ve been on there with no steps toward happening.
Time on my hands has helped shorten the list. I was able to finally leave behind “Have a bountiful vegetable garden that is the envy of all my neighbors” because with time to do it, I was faced with the actual work. I’m not going to fight the deer on this one. There are farmers markets for vegetables.
But I also have found opportunities for creativity that were unexpected. I bet you have, too. (Unless of course, you were working harder than ever, in which case I apologize for dwelling on the subject of too much time on hand – we all had different pandemics.) The photos I’ve been sent of decorated focaccia, needlepoint projects, pastry contests among friends, the sewing, the watercolors, have reminded me that there is creativity bound up in all of us, waiting to be unleashed.
I didn’t bake bread or cake, but I worked on how to make low-carb food delicious. I didn’t plant vegetables, but I planted a lot of deer-resistant flowers in combinations that made me very happy. And I started commemorating holidays and events with a lot of terrible, rhyming poetry I like to call epic doggerel. It cracked me up way more than it did the people I sent it to.
If you expand the definition of “creative” to include “creative problem-solving” or “innovation,” well I see that everywhere. I think of parents who rose to the task of keeping their children interested in learning, Zoom meetings that brought people closer together, arts groups who used technology in new ways to continue making art available. I would not have considered it worthy of the “creative” label to cook the way I have been, based on putting off going to the grocery store for as long as possible and using what I have on hand. But it takes ingenuity and skill, and results in the meals I feel proudest of.
This is such a vital force, the urge toward creativity and innovation, whether making something from nothing or being inspired within restrictions. I like to think every act of creativity joins with the rest into a larger force in the world, whether it “succeeds” or not. But fear and self-doubt, the feelings of not being good enough, the very definition of creativity brought on by things like that (true but evil) meme impede us. The examples of brilliant creativity that we can see by going to a museum or picking up a book or seeing a very cool new app, can be both inspiring and discouraging.
I have been noticing endless opportunities in everyday life to be creative that we pass up for those reasons, the chances to try something that also could very well end in embarrassment or humiliation. And I’m trying to take them up. One evening, during the summer-long post-vaccination hiatus when we dared hope things might be back to normal, my husband and I went out to a bar to hear a band. A couple of people were dancing, and because I’m awful, I was watching one woman, thinking what a not very good dancer she was. Seriously, I was privately rating a person who had stood up and started moving in the way the music inspired her. While I sat in my seat.
So I got up and danced. It felt good.
Polly Campbell covered restaurants and food for The Cincinnati Enquirer from 1996 until 2020. She lives in Pleasant Ridge with her husband, and since retiring does a lot of reading, cooking and gardening, if that’s what you call pulling up weeds. During the pandemic, she has missed the theater, live music and, most especially, going to parties.