A love letter to overwhelmed creatives

overwhelmed creative, head in hands

If you’re anything like me, then over the last month or so you’ve been bombarded online with ALL of the ways you could/should be passing your time in lockdown.

Lists of links to online versions of stage productions, videos encouraging you to use this time to be ‘more productive’, learn new hobbies, make self tapes, write scripts, catch up on this, that and the other.

I have to confess that I put a bunch of pressure on myself at the start. I made a stack of books I wanted to read, a list of films and tv shows I wanted to watch, brainstormed ideas about ALL THE WAYS I COULD BE PRODUCTIVE. After all, I’m spending a lockdown alone so…..no distractions right?

Then, I discovered I was exhausted. Like, bone tired. Napping in the middle of the day, but still sleeping through the night for at least 9 hours, often more.  Apparently napping actually helps you to reset your nervous system, so I guess that’s what I was doing??

Right now, everyone is making a lot of content for everyone to consume. Or they’re sharing existing content ONLINE for FREE for the FIRST TIME EVER.

I signed up for a bunch of webinars, and felt this creeping dread that I wasn’t going to keep up with the outpouring of opportunities to CONSUME.

Ahhhhh yes. Productivity and consumption. Two major ways we fill our time, and derive a sense of accomplishment when things feel chaotic, frightening, & out of our control.

Now, I’m not saying watching, or reading stuff is bad. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be excited that that play you wish you could’ve seen is now online for free. It’s awesome!

But if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been flirting an awful lot with overwhelm at the moment. 

So, I just wanted to let you know, from all the chats I’ve been having with creative pals I’ve learnt that this is a completely normal response. And also, it’s ok to give yourself a break. Perhaps even lean into the uncertainty of this moment, as Nicholas Berger so beautifully writes.

As an actor, I’m never fully switched off. I’m always aware that I might get called up last minute for an audition, or a self tape. So it’s hard to completely unwind, even now when there are very few auditions doing the rounds. It’s easy to worry that by relaxing, by taking ourselves off the hook, we’re gonna lose our craft. 

If there’s one thing that spending time with plenty of actors over the past ten years has taught me it’s this: Being fully in your life, exactly as it currently is, is all you need to do to remain connected to your craft. 

You don’t need to read a play a week, or learn a monologue and film it regularly, or do specific acting related exercises every day. 

If you REALLY WANT to, then by all means have at it. 

But you don’t HAVE TO. 

ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW.

Right now, some really big shit is happening in the world. It may be having a massive effect on you, if not directly then indirectly.

Your mental health is of utmost importance. Not just “as an actor” but as a HUMAN BEING on PLANET EARTH.

“Self care” can feel like fluffy language, and I’ve certainly been guilty of thinking I’m doing “self care” simply by lighting a candle or having a bath, (I do love both these things btw).

These are material concrete actions, but “self care” at it’s essence, has very little to do with specific activities, and more to do with taking time (which let’s be honest, we have more of now than ever) to listen to what’s going on deep down, and to just be gentle.

To act from that centered place, out of love and friendship for ourselves. 

Let me give you an example. As the weeks have worn on I’ve developed a bit of a routine, a certain time that I get up, a series of rituals (meditation, yoga, running, shower, breakfast etc). The night before, I write down what I want to get done the next day. This is a bit productivey of me – and it surprised me to behave this way.

SO, hand in hand with this behaviour, I reserve the right every day and at every step in the process, to throw out the list. If it’s a beautiful day, I follow the impulse to go for a walk. If I feel sad, I’ll make myself something nice to eat and listen to a relaxing podcast. Or watch LOTR behind the scene videos again (they soothe me for some reason).

I hold my ‘tasks’ very lightly. I clumsily acknowledge that I can actually do WHATEVER I WANT with my day. I’m my own boss, but I’m that chill boss that doesn’t care. There’s a freedom in this. And it’s important to feel freedom right now.

I’m my own Ron Swanson if you will.

I’m not saying you should approach your lockdown exactly the same way I am. You may well be working from home, your kids may be occupying the bulk of your time, or you have lots of flatmates about. Or a mixture. Your situation will naturally be specific to you. 

But here’s what I want for you: I want you to take the pressure off yourself as much as possible, and find some fun in your current situation. 

Do whatever you want with your creativity, but don’t forget to use it on yourself, for yourself. 

Creatives are often terrible at this. We use our creativity for our work, and to serve others, and we forget to turn it toward ourselves. Why not make something beautiful just for yourself.

A meal, a crappy drawing, a silly song, a letter to yourself, whatever tickles your fancy. 

Do something beautiful and creative and selfish, just for you. Light yourself up for no reason but because. Remind yourself of that little kid who made mud cakes, and tiny fairy tea parties which she set up in the garden to surprise the fairies (just me? Cool cool cool cool cool).

Now, I’m aware it’s ironic to offer you resources after going on about the overwhelming amount of online content. 

But I want you to know that I put it together with you, my fellow overwhelmed creative, in mind. 

There are only THREE resources, and I’ve found all of them deeply useful and worthy of attention. 

If you want them, just fill in the form below.

If you don’t, I’m here cheering you on regardless. 

For those of you reading who are in New Zealand, we’re in a process of semi emerging from level 4 lockdown, and it’s weird. I’m oddly nostalgic for the quiet calm of lockdown…though clearly, things are step by step and day by day. The passage of time has morphed and warped.

These are strange times, but I’m glad to be sharing them with you.

To wrap up, here’s a lovely quote:

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace. You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”

Elizabeth Kubler Ross

Comment below if you have any insights you’d like to share with me!

All my love,

Clare

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