2020 was a year when we all slowed down and sped up at the same time. The lockdowns in response to COVID-19 have given us space to develop coping mechanisms for trauma and stress, but also created a need to find an outlet that will help us make sense of the chaos in the world. I found my way back to writing, something that I used to love at other times of high stress in my life. It’s my way of not just synthesizing all that last year brought us, but also to connect with the world.
After reading a profound memoir (shout out to Tara Westover and her masterpiece Educated), I began to think about writers differently. I thought about how brave this woman is to go through the process of sifting through her trauma enough to be able to articulate and write it, but then to also openly share it with the world. To say “here is me, scars and all” and then allow strangers to consume your story as escapism and entertainment.
Creative people are amazing. They wade into the uncomfortable and awkward territory of the human experience and then translate it into a medium that the rest of us can comprehend. Painters tap into an undefined space of the mind and communicate color, shape, and form. Dancers express the body’s mechanical creativity through movement, musicians use sound to bring life into emptiness. And writers, they dig down into the hard, ugly, awkward parts of themselves and try to create clarity and closure.
What’s more amazing is that rather than keep this personal experience to themselves, many people then send it out into the world. They share it with others so that someone somewhere can make sense of their own life. Maybe they will feel inspired or thoughtful, or for one moment they will feel seen and understood. Maybe for a second they won’t feel alone in their experience. Creatives throw a tendril of their redefined chaos out into the vastness of the world with the sole intention to create connection. To create a shared experience of hope, or love, or heartbreak.
In the last nine months, we have experienced shock wave after shock wave and challenges to long held beliefs of what constitutes”normal”. Very little of 2020 has brought us any sense of stability, and we have reached out to healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, and custodians and asked them to keep us safe and healthy. They have been deemed as “essential” to keep us alive. But who is essential to keep us sane? To keep us emotionally and mentally stable and safe?
Creatives. We look to the books and songs and paintings we love. To the movies that make us cry and the TV shows that bring us joy. To people that have made the brave decision to be the communicators of humanity, to be the documentarians of feelings and emotions rather than events. We ask them to distract us, to pacify us, to hold a torch for us as we wade into the dark and uncomfortable space within us. Then we ask them to help us put everything back together when it all feels like too much.
Essential workers are the “how” of society. They are how we stay alive, how we eat and work and stay healthy. But creatives, they are our “why”. They help us figure out why we are alive and how to get through the ugly and bad and traumatic. They help create our belief that things will get better, and that life will be more beautiful on the other end of the tunnel. So to the painters and poets and musicians and writers: Thank you. The work you do is more essential to humanity than you will ever know.