Craft, whether of words or paint, yarn or cloth, has always been the beating heart of my life. The fuel that takes me through each day of my journey in this world. There has never been a time when I have not used creativity as a crutch to hold my head above the stormy waves of existence. My first really strong memory, is three year old me, at a playgroup in a wooden church hall, standing with a paint brush, in front of an easel that was bigger than I was, with a clutch of colour filled jam jars on the table at my side. I remember the skin stretching feeling of tears drying on my face, the ache of loss for my mum, who had left me there to have fun while she took my baby sister to the shops. And then the joy of painting, absorbing my whole being so much so that I forgot to be sad. If I close my eyes I can still smell the paint, hear the brush over the paper, feel the breathtaking happiness of watching colour consume all the white spaces.
When my brother died, I was 17, and months away from exams that should really have been my priority. Recklessly, I skipped more Geology lessons that I care to admit as I grieved for him. Whole days and weeks were spent, hidden away behind heavy stage curtains, painting scenery for a school show, getting lost in that movement of colour. Five years later, my father’s death and my grief around his loss informed and directed my degree show work. What began as an exploration of synesthesia between colour, form and music, became an honouring of my father’s life and a working through of our difficult relationship. Many years later still, the processing of the long ago loss of a deeply beloved friend was worked through in colour, stitching, words. To busy my hands and my brain with creativity affords my unconscious mind the space and time to process whatever it sitting, unresolved. Creativity has always been the storm drain for my emotional energies.
Some time ago, near the beginning of our collective global solitary confinement, I read an article by Lola Thorne about our flight/flight/freeze/flop responses in times of crisis and of grief. It really struck a cord with me, and helped me recognize that my trauma response has always been, throughout every traumatic event I have lived through, to fight. Of this response, Lola says:
“Many of the fighters will be filling their time, feeling productive – they know they cannot control the outside but they can choose how to use their time. It may not be the case for everyone who is doing this, but if this was your first day in quarantine, I invite you to think about how you have previously reacted to stress or grief? Have you always found ways to take action? Have you always pushed yourself to achieve something? Perhaps your trauma response is to fight.”
So we’re not talking fight in a combative sense, but as a need to be moving, making, completing tasks, creating, achieving. Filling time. By doing stuff, and spending time concentrating on my stitching, singing, gardening, baking – there is less time to sit with the reality of our current global pandemic. I felt absolutely okay with that, and spent time learning how to spin, cutting patches for a new patchwork quilt (the only one that I’ve ever made just for me since the first quilt I made at the age of 17), until I found myself so worn out and exhausted from the constant busy-ness that I developed a headache that lasted 3 days. I’d stopped listening to what my body needed in the search for stuff to silence my mind.
It became important then, for me, to acknowledge that we are living through grief, as much as anything else during this time of global pandemic. The loss of a way of life, of what we know, connections with family and friends, daily routines, beloved landscapes. The inability to seek and immerse myself in wild nature feels as difficult as anything else, and it is a grief, knowing I may not be able to do so for some time yet. And for some, sadly, the loss of friends and family who have died since COVID-19 stepped onto the world stage, makes everything else pale in comparison.
But amongst it all – all the grief and the dark and the overwhelm, creativity is flourishing. I can see it breaking through like tiny wildflowers growing in the cracks in the pavements. And it gives me hope.
As long time followers of my work will know, both of my children are Home Educated, and when people beginning this journey ask me for advice on the subject, I always say this. What does your child love, what moves them, what inspires them, what are they really interested in? Start there. At the beginning of any good home education journey, is a pause, where all that motivates the child is discovered, and a learning journey carved and facilitated around that. Home educated children have the freedom to learn exactly what they want to, in the way they want to, and what I am seeing more and more over the last few weeks is adults finding themselves with that same level of educational freedom that they perhaps had never experienced before. And with time on their hands to see explorations through. In truth, the education of children doesn’t actually have to be any different to the way adults search out learning experiences. It’s really interesting to observe people seeking out their creative sides and discovering all the activities they hadn’t been able to make space for before, and then running with them. Given this pause, this space, this time for “other”, there is a blooming creative cacophony, a symphony, a song. From painting and writing and film making and singing to baking and gardening and stitching and drawing. In these days of social media, we are all watching this global symphony unfurling, like ferns in the spring. It is inspiring to see folk using lockdown to hone their skills, learn that thing they’d always longed to learn, read all the books, create all the art, sing all the songs. And if, like me, your trauma response is the fighter, then you’re probably right there, doing all the stuff too.
What feels as important though, is that I take time to acknowledge and honour that everyone is having different responses. And to sit with how crucial it is to give ourselves the permission to change and adapt our response as our needs change. I am reminding myself to rest, when I step close to creative and emotional overload. Listening to what we need as a family, and creating the space for that, in the moment, as it occurs. I’m trying hard to tune into my own and my children’s needs, and go with them, wherever they take us, to help us cope with the changes and work through the frustrations and grief of this time. Whether that’s camping in the back garden, watching films back to back all afternoon, taking naps when we need them or spending whole days crafting. For now, we are taking every day slow and steady. I’m working on avoiding creative burnout, feeling my way through with hope and calmness and adopting a one-day-at-a-time approach to both my family life and the craft projects that are helping me process all that feels so difficult in these challenging times. Crafting my way through Corona. Hopeful that brighter, easier days are on the way.
My blog and everything in it will always be free to inspire and support people to live with less plastic, live more sustainably, live with less, and work to reduce the impact of climate change. It does, however, incur running costs. If you are able to contribute to these costs you are welcome to leave a tip in my tip jar here. If you are able to support me monthly, and would like some beautiful handmade creations in exchange, check out my new Patreon site. If, however, in these financially challenging times, you’re not able to do either of these things, please know that sharing the link to this post on your social media platforms is more than enough. Stay well. Thanks and love, Kate.